By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
EDMONTON – Canada remains on track at the Women’s World Cup but question-marks are being raised along the way.
Poor finishing cost the Canadian side in a 0-0 draw with New Zealand on Thursday night. And for the second game in a row, there were defensive wobbles despite the clean sheet.
The Canadian women are 8-2-1 in 2015, but have scored just 12 goals in those 11 games. They have just four goals in their last seven games.
The defence is stingy, giving up just five goals in 2015. But Canada is a team that cannot afford to waste chances in front of the goal especially on a night like Thursday when New Zealand ‘keeper Erin Nayler was on her game.
Canada coach John Herdman had all but guaranteed a win before the match against his former team. He did not back down afterwards but his bravado seemed somewhat subdued.
“I thought we were the better team but we’ve got to find the back of the net,” said Herdman. “That’s our challenge going into the next game.
“The good news is we’re still top of the group, we’ve got a positive goal difference and we’re going to Montreal with some real clarity on where we’re at.”
The single point all but assures Canada (1-0-1) of advancing to the second round, but the order of finish in Group A will go down to the wire.
In the earlier game at Commonwealth Stadium, No. 16 China beat the 12th-ranked Netherlands 1-0 on a 91st-minute goal by Wang Lisi.
The results tightened up Group A, leaving Canada with four points, the Chinese and the Dutch on three and New Zealand on one.
Herdman said six points is always the magic number to get to the knockout rounds.
“But four points is good. I mean we can’t finish last in the group,” said Herdman.
Four third-place teams from the six groups advance to the round of 16, so third is nothing to sneeze at. But talking about not finishing last in the group is hardly the stuff of Vince Lombardi.
Herdman then took another tack, saying Canada is still in the driving seat to finish atop its group.
“All in all, another solid performance from Canada,” he concluded. “Let’s find the back of the net and give these fans a bit more to cheer about, and let a coach relax and enjoy the game a bit.”
The Canadians leave Friday for Montreal where they will wrap up pool play Monday against the Dutch at Olympic Stadium. New Zealand faces China that same day in Winnipeg.
The Kiwis thought they deserved more than a point.
“When the final whistle went, we were really disappointed that we didn’t come away with the three points,” said coach Tony Readings, whose team lost 1-0 to the Dutch in its opener. “Again we felt we did enough.”
Canada is ranked eighth in the world compared to No. 17 for New Zealand.
Thursday’s game had plenty of drama with a weather delay, Canadian goal called back and both sides hitting the crossbar, with the woodwork denying a New Zealand penalty kick.
Canada needed a stoppage-time penalty kick from captain Christine Sinclair to dispatch China 1-0 in the tournament opener. But this time there was no last-minute happy ending for the home team although Sinclair had several chances to end the deadlock, including an 85th-minute shot that went wide.
The point was only the second at the World Cup for New Zealand. The first came four years ago under Herdman.
Canadian giveaways at the back suggested there is work to do because better teams will punish such mistakes.
Herdman took off centre back Lauren Sesselmann in the 68th minute, inserting veteran Carmelina Moscato. But Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan showed her defensive class with a key tackle in the 65th minute, poking the ball away as a New Zealand player slashed towards goal.
Rain lashed the stadium immediately after the first game, leaving the Canadians and New Zealanders to warm up in a downpour. The rain continued, soaking the crowd of 35,544 and offering the players a different challenge after the heat of their opening matches.
As thunder rumbled, the contest was halted in the fourth minute due to the threat of lightning with German referee Bibiana Steinhaus ordering the players off the field. The PA announcer asked fans to take refuge under the stands.
The game resumed 30 minutes later under sunshine after a warmup that saw Herdman and Readings, Herdman’s former assistant when he coached the Kiwis, chatting on the sidelines.
New Zealand missed a glorious opportunity to go ahead via a 33rd-minute penalty kick when Amber Hearn beat goalie Erin McLeod but hit the crossbar. Fullback Allysha Chapman had been penalized for bodychecking Hannah Wilkinson to the ground in the box after a Buchanan giveaway.
Chapman called it a soft penalty, saying Wilkinson went down too easy.
The Kiwis had the best early chance with McLeod forced to tip a Hearn header over the bar on a free kick in the 10th minute.
Nayler saved Jonelle Filigno’s straightforward header and then Sinclair’s more challenging left-footed shot in the 23rd minute as the Canadian captain pounced on a fine feed from Ashley Lawrence, who was celebrating her 20th birthday.
A Melissa Tancredi goal off a free kick in the 45th minute was called off for offside. Replays showed the Canadian forward was offside when Filigno headed the ball to her.
Nayler made a fine save to push a looping Sinclair shot over the crossbar in the 47th minute.
Canada outshot New Zealand 10-5 (6-1 in shots on target).
“We’re creating chances, there were some gilt-edged chances tonight,” said Herdman.
“I’d be concerned if we weren’t creating chances,” said Sinclair. “Sooner or later they’re going to go in.”
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