This November, the Canadian Men’s national team will embark on their first World Cup campaign since 1986 and no matter what happens, the team will be able to look forward to another World Cup appearance in 2026, when Canada will co-host the tournament alongside Mexico and The United States.
For the players, both playing in a World Cup and then potentially a home World Cup is a new and unknown experience, but for head coach John Herdman, he’s been here before in the Women’s game. Seven years on from the summer of 2015, we take a look back on the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup hosted by Canada, and the build-up John Herdman and the CWNT went on before the World Cup started.
Canada was effectively awarded as hosts for the Women’s FIFA World Cup in March 2011, when the only other country in the running, Zimbabwe, withdrew their bid, bringing a senior FIFA tournament to Canada for the time ever. While there was excitement to come, there was still the 2011 World Cup for Canada to compete in beforehand, and it almost couldn’t have gone any worse.
At the 2011 Germany World Cup, Canada was drawn against the host Germans, France, and Nigeria. While Germany was World Cup holders and amongst the tournament favourites, France had never gotten out of the group stage before, and Nigeria had only ever won two of their previous thirteen World Cup games, so Canada would’ve fancied their chances to make it to the next round.
What indeed happened, however, was that the team lost 2-1 to Germany, 4-0 to France, and then 1-0 to Nigeria, crashing out in embarrassing fashion with no points and a goal difference of minus six.
Meanwhile, New Zealand – a much smaller name in women’s football, was also in the Word Cup. Against eventual champions Japan, England, and Mexico, The Football Ferns put in very respectable results in narrow 2-1 defeats to both Japan and England before drawing 2-2 with Mexico. New Zealand’s manager at the time was Englishman John Herdman, and after Canada’s manager Carolina Morace left her role, Les Rouges were eying up Herdman as a ready-made replacement.
Herdman left New Zealand and was appointed Canada’s head coach after the World Cup, and made an immediate impact. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Canada advanced from their group and defeated Colombia in the semi-finals, before coming up against the soccer powerhouse nation Brazil in the final. After falling behind early to a goal from Debinha, Canada stalwart Christine Sinclair equalized with just three minutes left, and after extra time, Canada would come on top on penalties to win Pan American Gold for the first time, and help restore some pride after a disastrous World Cup.
Herdman and Canada’s next big test was the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Just like in Germany in 2011, Canada had a tough draw as they were paired with World Cup winners Japan, World Cup bronze medalists Sweden, and South Africa, who would go on to be Africa Women’s Cup of Nations runners-up just a few months later. But unlike 2011, Canada performed much better, losing to Japan by a tight score line of only 2-1, before securing four points with a 3-0 win over South Africa, and a 2-2 draw against Sweden to ensure passage to the knock out stages.
Against hosts Great Britain, Canada capitalized on set pieces to shock the hosts. First Jonelle Filigno scored from a well-worked free-kick, before captain Christine Sinclair curled home a free kick of her own to give Canada a win over the country John Herdman was born in to reach the Semi-Finals against the United States.
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The semi-final has gone down as both one of the greatest Olympic Soccer matches of all time, and also one of the most controversial. Canada had a 3-2 lead thanks to a Sinclair hat trick, but with twelve minutes left, referee Christina Pedersen controversially awarded the U.S. an indirect free kick in Canada’s box, what followed was an even more controversial awarding of a penalty for a handball that the U.S. converted before going onto win the game 4-3 deep into extra time. Pedersen has never refereed at a major competition since, and after that disappointment, Canada faced a familiar foe in the Bronze medal game.
A year since their humiliating 4-0 loss to France in the World Cup, the Canadians faced the French once again in the Bronze Medal game, and had to rely on all their defensive organization, skill, and a little bit of luck. France dominated the game with the vast majority of chances, but Canada held on, and with seconds to go, grabbed a go-ahead goal from Diana Matheson to win Canada their first Olympic soccer medal in over a hundred years, and the first-ever medal in Olympic Women’s soccer. A year on from their lowest ebb, Canada’s women had found redemption ahead of their home World Cup in 2015.
The 2015 FIFA World Cup was to be held in Canada, and the host cities were Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Moncton, and Vancouver. The majority of the stadiums selected were primarily used for the Canadian Football League, and as such, going into the tournament, the turf was a big controversy. The lack of any natural grass pitches used sparked huge concerns of unsafe playing surfaces due to the higher risk of injury, and the issue came to a head when a lawsuit against FIFA was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal by a group of 84 women’s international soccer players against FIFA. The lawsuit would eventually be dropped, but the playing surfaces would remain a talking point.
Another notable part of this World Cup was it was the first Women’s FIFA World Cup to include goal-line technology, giving the referee definite confirmation over if a ball crossed the goal line or not.
The tournament began on June 6th for the hosts with Canada, playing their opening game against China at Commonwealth Stadium. After a hard-fought game that saw both sides hit the woodwork, Adriana Leon was fouled by China’s Zhao Rong in the box for a penalty in the ninety-second minute. Christine Sinclair, calm and collected as always, slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to send the 53,000 fans in Edmonton home ecstatic. It was the first World Cup game Canada had won since 2007.
John Herdman’s side would go on to play New Zealand and the Netherlands in two consecutive draws, and Canada topped their World Cup group with five points, the first time they had gotten out of the group stage since 2003, and the first time Canada had topped a World Cup group.
Next up for Herdman and company was a last-sixteen tie against Switzerland, a team that was riding a high of making it out of the group stage in their very first World Cup appearance. In front of a sold-out BC Place in Vancouver, Sinclair was once again front and centre, as she set up Josée Bélanger to open to scoring in the fifty-sixth minute.
Canada did have the best chances in the game, but was still reliant on goalkeeper Erin McLeod making a crucial low save from Switzerland’s Vanessa Bernauer to preserve the lead. At full time, Herdman could be seen being very vocal in his celebration while the players ran on the pitch, and the fans were ecstatic in an electric BC Place. Four years on from a complete disaster, Canada was in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in twelve years.
Canada faced off against England in the quarter-final, the country of John Herdman’s birth. England was one of the best teams in the world with plenty of experience. England’s Karen Carney, Alex Scott, and Fara Williams all combined for 365 international appearances going into the tournament. The crowd of 54,027 at BC Place was the highest ever attendance for a game involving either Canada’s or England’s women’s soccer teams.
On the high stakes occasion, it was the visitors that drew first blood. England’s Jodie Taylor capitalized on a Canadian mistake at the back to make it 1-0, and just three minutes later, Lucy Bronze doubled the lead to make it 2-0 after just fourteen minutes. Sinclair pulled a goal back just before halftime, but despite having most of the possession and the majority of the shots on goal, it wasn’t enough as England won the game 2-1.
England would go on to lose to Japan in Edmonton, and in the World Cup Final in Vancouver, the United States would win the 2015 FIFA World Cup. The tournament had a total attendance of 1,353,506, equating to 26,029 per game. Canada had proven it could host a successful World Cup, which come 2018, would’ve been on FIFA’s mind when Canada was awarded the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup alongside the United States and Mexico. Canada will become just the fifth country to host both the men’s and women’s World Cup.
As for the team of 2015, Herdman had put together a winning side that had found its spark again after a disaster in Germany. Although they bowed out in the quarter-final, it was as far from the embarrassment of 2011 as possible. Herdman would lead Canada to another Olympic bronze in 2016 before taking the men’s job in 2018. From the culture Herdman built, the women’s team has gone on from strength to strength, culminating in an Olympic Gold Medal in 2020.
In Qatar 2022 and the home World Cup in 2026, the Canadian Men’s National Team will be going into almost uncharted waters for the men’s team. Qatar 2022 is the first time in over a generation that Canada’s men have made the World Cup, and 2026 will of course see the men’s World Cup come to Canada for the first time. But the team can look to their coach as a man who has been there before with the women’s team, leading the team out in 2015 – and having unfinished business with the FIFA World Cup.
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