Leon instrumental in Canada win while Erceg’s New Zealand unlucky to come up short
By Gunnar Berndt
GROUP A: CANADA VS. CHINA 1-0
Red Stars: Karina LeBlanc (GK), Adriana Leon (FWD), Melissa Tancredi (FWD) – all Canada
Canada survided its opening-game jitters, as Christine Sinclair’s stoppage time penalty kick gave the host nation a crucial early win. Veteran Melissa Tancredi started the match and worked tirelessly up front for 77 minutes before being replaced by rising star and fellow Chicago striker Adriana Leon. While Tancredi nearly stripped opposition goalkeeper Fei Wang of the ball in the second half, Leon was key in her side grabbing all three points, as she sent Sinclair to the spot by taking an arm to the head from China’s Rong Zhao. Red Stars netminder Karina LeBlanc served as backup for the home side.
While the Canucks controlled possession throughout the majority of the tightly contested match, their counterparts from Asia proved an uncomfortable adversary that impressed with its work ethic and outstanding tactical discipline. The Chinese nearly scored on two occasions in the first half, once hitting both the crossbar and the post on the same free-kick attempt by Lisi Wang and once seeing Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod rush off her line to deny Yasha Gu following an underhit backpass by defender Lauren Sesselmann.
The host nation hit woodwork of its own before the break, Josee Belanger collecting the ball on the edge of the area and releasing a thunderbolt that rattled the crossbar. While the Canadians continued to press for the remainder of the 90 minutes, the hard-fought victory should serve as a warning to Head Coach John Herdman that his side needs to kick it into a higher gear if it hopes to win the coveted World Cup trophy.
GROUP A: NEW ZEALAND VS. NETHERLANDS 0-1
Red Stars: Abby Erceg (DEF) – New Zealand
Captained by Red Stars defender Abby Erceg, New Zealand will likely consider itself unlucky to have been victimized by the Netherlands’ first ever World Cup win in their debut on the biggest stage. In a match that lacked attacking flair, Erceg did her part in leading the Football Ferns to a solid defensive performance that saw her side outshoot the Oranje squad 11-6 (on target: 5-3). Dutch midfielder Lieke Martens scored the game’s decisive goal with a powerful first-half hit from outside the area that found its way past opposition goalkeeper Erin Nayler and inside the right post.
While a strike by Dutch up-and-comer Danielle van de Donk around the quarter-hour mark was disallowed for offside, New Zealand had a dangerous look of its own on a Ria Percival free-kick from about 28 yards out and just to the left of the penalty area. The fullback’s well-hit curler seemed destined for the net until it was slapped out of the upper ninety by goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal. After struggling to produce much attacking creativity in the second half, Erceg and her squad will need improved performances against host nation Canada and China and if it’s to make its way out of the group.