By Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL – It wasn’t what Canada hoped to deliver to the 45,420 roaring fans at Olympic Stadium, but a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands was enough.
Ashley Lawrence scored early, only to see Canada concede a goal to substitute Kirsten Van De Ven in the 87th minute as the teams closed out group stage play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup on Monday night.
Canada finished first in Group A with a win and two draws and will begin single-game knock-out play Sunday in Vancouver against an opponent still to be determined. China was a second in the group while the Netherlands, with a win, a loss and a draw, was third.
“All in all, top of the group, five points, we’re off to the west coast, this was the plan,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “We’d love to have another three points in the bag but, job done, we’re happy.”
By finishing first, the Canadians will play all their remaining games in either Vancouver or Edmonton, greatly reducing the travel they may have faced by finishing second or third.
Canada, ranked eighth in the world, went for the win against the 12th-ranked Dutch by putting a mostly attack-oriented lineup on the field. It produced Canada’s first goal from open play in three group stage games, but they also conceded their first goal of the tournament.
“Ultimately our goal was to win the group,” said Canada captain Christine Sinclair. “We did that and we’re proud of that, but you hope that, in the last 5-10 minutes of the game, up 1-0, you can close out the game.
“Maybe a little naive on our part. There’s no excuse for them to get a 3 on 1 in the last couple of minutes of the game. We can learn from it.”
Herdman made four lineup changes, looking for offence from a Canadian team whose only goal in the opening two games was on a penalty.
They got the early pressure and Lawrence scored 10 minutes in on a play that started with a throw-in deep in Dutch territory. The ball deflected to Sophie Schmidt, who slipped it to Lawrence for a shot that went in off goalkeeper Loes Geurts’ knee.
Lawrence nearly added another a minute later but saw her low shot miss the left post.
But it was after making substitutions in the second half, mostly to shore up the defence, that the Dutch caught the Canadian defence off guard and equalized.
The visitors missed a glittering chance on a quick counter in the 83rd when Manon Melis broke in alone on the left side, but Erin McLeod kept it out with her best save of the night.
Four minutes later, a turnover allowed Melis to slip the ball to Van De Ven, who was all alone at the edge of the area to score.
“The tough decision, if I could have it back, was the fullback,” Herdman said of his 81st minute substitution of midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who took a nasty knock along the sidelines, with Rhian Wilkinson. “With Wilkinson, we wanted to make sure we shored up that side and put (Josee) Belanger into the attack.
“We just got caught out in the transition.”
Schmidt was shaken up. Herdman said it will help that Canada has six days before it’s next game to help her recover.
Canada’s changes had Moscato, Kaylyn Kyle, Adriana Leon and Jessie Fleming replacing Lauren Sesselmann, Desiree Scott, Melissa Tancredi and Jonelle Filigno. Tancredi and Scott went in for Kyle and Fleming in the 61st minute.
ESPN reported that at 20 years, four days, Lawrence became Canada’s third-youngest World Cup scorer behind Kara Lang (twice) and Schmidt.