Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t get a win on his home coaching debut for Canada but he found plenty of positives in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Olympic champion Germany.
“I think as a coach, you need to look sometimes through the result and look at the performance,” said the Dane, a former assistant coach who took over from John Herdman in January. “I’m very happy about the performance, for sure.”
It took an 84th-minute goal by German substitute Turid Knaak to decide the women’s soccer friendly, played before a sea of red at a soldout Tim Hortons Field.
Playing in a new 3-5-2 formation, the Canadian women showed resilience after conceding a first-minute goal off a defensive miscue. Captain Christine Sinclair, with her 173rd international goal, and Jessie Fleming scored in the second half to give Canada a 2-1 lead only to see Germany equalize seconds later.
Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe deserved a better fate on the winning goal. Labbe made a fine diving save off a Sara Dabritz free kick from some 20 yards out, pushing the ball off the post. But it bounced back to the other side of the goal where Knaak headed it in.
“It’s 80 per cent great stuff. Then the last 20, we’ll work on it,” said an upbeat Heiner-Moller.
The new formation is designed to give fourth-ranked Canada more flexibility and allow it to use the full width of the pitch and take advantage of players like Ashley Lawrence and Janine Beckie to attack on the flanks.
“So we can hurt opponents in different ways,” explained Heiner-Moller.
Sinclair also took positives from her 268th international appearance for Canada.
“We’re in a good space …. I think we’re moving in the right direction and we keep adding to our team, which is exciting,” said the skipper.
The Canadian women are gearing up for the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in October. The tournament doubles as a World Cup qualifier.
“We’re going to head into the qualifiers very confident,” said Sinclair. “We’re a top team in the world and we expect to qualify.
Sinclair’s 59th-minute goal, knotting the score at 1-1, came off a Beckie free kick. The third-ranked Germans were unable to clear the bouncing ball, which was sent back into the box for Sinclair to head home.
Sinclair wheeled away from the goal, her arms outstretched in celebration and headed towards the Canadian bench.
Sinclair, who turns 35 on Tuesday, is now 11 goals from tying American Abby Wambach’s record of 184.
Fleming gave Canada a brief lead in the 69th minute after Canada pounced on a poor backpass. The ball came into the box, with a dummy run from Sinclair setting up Fleming, who outwaited the goalkeeper and a defender and cooly knocked the ball into the net.
But Germany replied a minute later with Dabritz, another substitute, beating Labbe with a high accurate shot from just outside the penalty box.
Canada’s defence was ripped open early as Svenja Huth scored in the first minute. Star centre back Kadeisha Buchanan lost the ball in midfield and Lena Petermann split the Canadian defence with a through ball to Lea Schueller. A chasing Rebecca Quinn managed to poke the ball away but it went straight to Huth, whose low shot beat a diving Labbe.
“Blitzstart!” tweeted the German women’s official account.
Huth was a threat throughout a beautiful but breezy afternoon before a crowd of 22,826 on hand for the Canadian women’s first home game since last November — and the first in Hamilton since May 2015.
The game opened up in the second half with the entertainment value growing.
Canada fielded a strong team, calling on its top echelon of talent other than teenage striker Jordyn Huitema, who is captaining the Canadian entry at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship.
The Canadian starting 11 featured eight players who started the bronze-medal match game at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Germany brought a younger squad with just one starter from the Olympic final in Rio in its starting lineup.
Interim German coach Horst Hrubesch was also happy with the performance of his young team, especially in front of a loud Canadian crowd.
Dealing with Canada’s “fighting spirit” was a good test, he said through an interpreter.