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There is no happy way to frame it, no positive spin, no qualifier.

What happened here Thursday, a 4-0 loss to France that ended any hopes of Canada's national team advancing in the women's World Cup, was an unmitigated disaster, one that has the potential to resonate for years to come, crucial years that include the 2012 Olympics and Canada's playing host to the women's World Cup in 2015.

Thursday's match, from the moment the draw was announced, was the big one, really, what the past two years of preparation have been all about.

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And it was no contest, the most lopsided game so far in the entire tournament, with the French dominating in every facet, a poised, slick, skilled side that became more confident as the match wore on and Canada failed to present a real challenge.

"The French didn't make mistakes," Canadian coach Carolina Morace said. "They played the perfect game."

France's first goal, in the 24th minute, was a bit fluky. After Canada's Sophie Schmidt lost the ball just outside the penalty area, French midfielder Louisa Necib picked it up and slid a pass to Elise Bussaglia, whose shot deflected high off defender Emily Zurrer. Gaëtane Thiney headed it in, a second before keeper Erin McLeod reached her.

"Sometimes in soccer you have to kick away the ball without thinking too much," Morace said. "Giving up the goal created a lot of problems with our confidence."

That said, the goal did not come against the run of play. Canada had no solution for the elegant Necib, who was the best player on the pitch. The Canadians struggled to move the ball through the midfield to service their three forwards, including Christine Sinclair, who played all 90 minutes wearing her mask, but only sporadically looked like herself.

Canada had three or four chances – almost all of them created by Diana Matheson – and only McLeod's heroics kept the score respectable until the floodgates opened with three French goals in the second half.

"We just didn't win the one-on-one battles or show the heart we needed," Matheson said. "A lot of fans back home cheering us on deserved more. I think we had the best preparation of all the teams and we came out flat on the day."

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In two matches, the gritty 2-1 loss to Germany in the opener and the rout at the hands of France, Canada recorded precisely one shot on goal –Sinclair's celebrated free-kick goal. Pretty tough to beat anyone like that.

"I don't know if you could attribute it to nerves," McLeod said. "We were just kind of flat and we never really gained our composure. France is a good team, they took it to us and we were punished for our mistakes."

So what now? That question hung in the air as the Canadian team prepared to travel across the country to Dresden, where they will prepare for a meaningless final match against Nigeria, and then head home.

To get here, the players put their lives on hold, left friends and family behind, moved to Morace's preferred training base in Italy for long stretches, and were paid a relative pittance – and to get that, they had to threaten the Canadian Soccer Association with legal action.

Morace fought her own battles with the CSA, and at one point pledged to quit after this tournament. But those differences were patched over, at least temporarily, and everything pointed to a team that was united, happy and playing extremely well. The hope was that success here might inspire increased corporate support back home, perhaps allowing the team to train for more of the year at home.

That's going to be a lot trickier now, without a happy story to sell.

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Morace returned to a favourite theme after the match: "I think the Canadian team drew respect for the two years that we were together," she said. "I think that this team showed something good, and now we cannot delete everything that we did in the past. But now Canada has to decide what to do. If you want a good team, you have to start a league."

In other words, a domestic women's professional soccer league, and if you think the chances of that happening are far-fetched, you're right. And chances of that happening in time to enhance Canada's chances in 2012 or 2015 are pretty close to zero.

The veterans of this squad know that better than anyone. They have been on the big stage before. They have reached a World Cup semi-final. They came here believing that this was an opportunity to do that – or more. They believed that this was the best coached, the best prepared, the best Canadian women's team ever assembled, period.

And now, they are in shock.

"God, I don't know. I can't even put it into words right now," said veteran keeper Karina LeBlanc, who knows her career is drawing to a close. "It's just … we … it's tough. We knew this was a tough group, but I don't think we really thought that we'd be in this position right now. So we're all disappointed, heartbroken. It's heartbreaking because we've given up so much. We prepared for so long, we had goals in mind and when you fall short, you just feel gutted."

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