MONTREAL — Canada did just enough at the Women’s World Cup to secure first place in Group A Monday night with a nervy draw against the Dutch.
Canadian Ashley Lawrence chose the right time to score her first goal while donning the maple leaf, but her 10th-minute side-foot marker was cancelled out but Netherlands substitute Kirsten Van De Ven’s top-corner strike in the dying minutes of the match.
But when the other Group A teams, China and New Zealand, drew 2-2 while playing at the same time in Winnipeg, Canada advanced to the round of 16 atop their group.
The five points will allow Canada to face a third-place finisher in the first stage of the knockout rounds in Vancouver on Sunday.
Lawrence’s goal provided an ideal start for the Canadians, who had struggled to put the ball in the back of the net during regulation play in their first two games against China and New Zealand.
Canada, who led the group with four points going into the match, and coach John Herdman said before the game that his team needed to finish first to maintain control of its destiny.
“These sort of things are what you live and die for,” Herdman said. “That’s what you get out of bed for, or else we’d be just coaching down at our local park . . . You get up and see how you handle it; you get up and see what this is all about, this job, and who you are as a man and as a team in these moments.”
Canada started brightly against the Dutch, who could still be one of the four third-place teams to qualify for the round of 16 depending on results in the remaining round-robin matches to be played tomorrow and Wednesday. The Chinese will move forward in second place.
As promised, Herdman made four changes from the starting XI he used in Canada’s first two matches in Edmonton. Centre-back Lauren Sesselmann, midfielder Desiree Scott and strikers Jonelle Filigno and Melissa Tancredi were replaced by Carmelina Moscato, Kaylyn Kyle, Jessie Fleming and Adriana Leon to complete a more attacking 4-3-3 formation.
It was the first senior World Cup appearance for Fleming, the 17-year-old wunderkind from London who is touted as the next Christine Sinclair.
A deflected shot by Lawrence in the sixth minute dropped for Sophie Schmidt to head, but the midfielder pinged the ball off the crossbar and out of bounds.
But four minutes later, when a shot by Schmidt rebounded off Dutch defender Stefanie Van Der Gragt, Lawrence was there for the rebound, driving the ball home with a calm side-footed strike. In a worrying moment for Canada, the midfielder later left the game after requiring treatment mid-match.
A strong Dutch strike force of Manon Melis, Vivianne Miedeman and Lieke Martens tried again and again to connect but couldn’t find a way through, until the dying moments of the game when the Canadian defenders tired noticeably.
Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod made a fantastic save with her trailing leg when Manon Melis skipped away from substitute Rhian Wilkinson, but she had no chance against Van De Van’s top-class drive.
Composure in front of the nets remains a struggle for the Canadians, whose only shot on target out of eight attempts in the first half was Lawrence’s goal.
But Sinclair said Saturday she wasn’t concerned about goals as long as the team was creating chances.
“People have to realize it’s the World Cup; we’re playing against the best teams in the world. There are no slouches.”
By finishing first in Group A, Canada is guaranteed little travel, with all its potential remaining games in either Vancouver or Edmonton.
- With files from The Canadian Press