By Mathieu Dauphinais, Team Canada
July 4, 2013, KAZAN, Russia (CIS) – The Canadian women’s and men’s soccer teams continued their preparation for the Universiade tournament over the last few days with exhibition games against South Africa and Mexico, respectively.
The women’s squad held its last friendly Wednesday at Kazan’s Trudovye Rezervy Stadium. After playing a number of contests in Poland and Russia, Liz Jepsen’s side seems ready to open its competition Friday morning against Mexico.
Against South Africa, the Canadians showed cohesion and used solid team work to post a 3-0 win.
“It’s a challenge to put together a team on such short notice,” says Jepsen, head coach of the University of Alberta program. “I think the girls now feel they’re part of a team and we’re progressing in all phases of the game. We’ve played some really good opponents these last few days. We wanted to get as close as possible to the level of opposition we’ll face during the tournament.”
Prior to arriving in Kazan, the Canucks made a stop in Poland, where they battled the country’s senior national team as well as a top-level club. Despite settling for a loss and a draw, the players acquired valuable experience from those contests.
“We’re all from different universities and we all have our own style,” says midfielder Constance de Chantal Dumont, who hails from Saint-Alexandre, Que. “We’re definitely progressing though. We now know our respective roles and we’re communicating better.”
In Kazan, in addition to the win over South Africa, Jepsen’s troops tied Japan, the silver medallist from the last Universiade. The Canadians are now focused on their opener, which will be the culmination of a long process.
“I’ve been waiting for this for months,” says Heather Lund from Red Deer, Alta., who will wrap up her university career in Kazan. “I’m very excited about Friday. We’ve only been together two weeks but it feels like we’ve known each other for years.”
While team members come from all over Canada, they all play on the Canadian Interuniversity Sport circuit.
“Our athletes have demonstrated they know what it takes to achieve excellence,” says Jepsen. “They are an example for upcoming players and are proof than you can succeed at this level.”
“To represent your country is really special,” adds de Chantal Dumont, who competed at the FIFA under-20 World Cup last year. “You see it at the village, with athletes from all sports. We’re like a big family and we’ll make sure we cheer on other Canadian teams.”
A year removed from the bronze medal captured by the Canadian women at the London Olympics, the student-athletes hope to improve from their fifth-place finish at the last FISU Games in Shenzhen, China, which matched the program’s best result at the event (1993, 2005).
Canadian men edge Mexico
On the men’s side, Canada wrapped up its exhibition schedule with a 1-0 victory over Mexico in an intense contest played Tuesday night at Raketa Stadium. Pat Raimondo’s squad now prepares for its tourney opener Friday versus France.
A goal by Robbie Murphy of Ottawa late in the opening half stood as the game-winner. Murphy scored from just inside the box after taking a feed from Marcus Johnstone of Edmonton.
“It was a good game and you can tell we’re gelling as a team at the right time,” says Raimondo, the University of Montreal bench boss. “It’s nice to finish with a win.”
Before getting to Russia, the Canadian team played a pair of exhibition matches and held a training camp in Guelph, Ont. The two contests ended with a 3-2 loss to the Toronto FC Academy and a 3-1 defeat against K-W United FC of the Premier Development League.
“We used those games to experiment with the roster,” says Raimondo. “We looked better from one game to the next. Our group is hard-working and driven. I think we’ve also developed a solid defensive system.”
Team Canada website: http://english.cis-sic.ca/universiade/summer/2013
Team Canada Twitter: @CDNUniversiade
Summer Universiade website: www.kazan2013.com/en
Canada hopes for a good start against France. The team’s best result in history at the Games is a fourth-place finish in 2007 in Bangkok, Thailand. Raimondo was also at the helm of that unit.
Two years ago in Shenzhen, the Red and White finished in ninth position, its second best placing at the biennial competition.