MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - DECEMBER 01: Mackenzie Barry of New Zealand struggles for the ball with Kaila Novak of Canada during the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 3rd place match between New Zealand and Canada at Estadio Charrua on December 1, 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Buda Mendes - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Canada finished fourth at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018 after falling 1:2 to New Zealand in the Match for Third Place at Estadio Charrúa in Montevideo. One of only three nations in the world to have finished top-10 in all six editions since 2008, Canada finished with their highest-ever ranking at fourth place.

“It’s been a heck of a ride for these young people,” said Rhian Wilkinson, Canada Soccer’s Women’s National U-17 Head Coach. “It was a heartbreak today, but you can only ask your players to leave everything on the field. I am so proud of what this group attempted to do in the second half.”

Down by two goals after 15 minutes, Canada put on the pressure and eventually cut the lead in the second half on a magnificent left-footed strike by Lara Kazandjian. Canada continued to press and create chances, but ultimately could not score the equaliser.

“I think the players will be very sad for the next little while, but then they’re going to look back at this journey and be very motivated to push on to a new level,” said Wilkinson. “Yes, we wish we walked away with a medal, but the players have discovered something about themselves in this tournament that will stay with them for the rest of their careers.”

Off the kickoff, Canada got caught playing the ball across their back line: after just 16 seconds, Grace Wisnewski pounced on an intercepted pass and gave New Zealand a 1:0 lead. Canada pushed back and nearly equalised just two minutes later, but, Jordyn Huitema’s apparent goal was called back after a foul inside the New Zealand box.

Canada went down two goals in the 13th minute after a clever Maggie Jenkins flick led to a second chance for Wisnewski which she put over the head of Anna Karpenko.

“We didn’t start very well,” said Wilkinson. “It was a rough start and our players will learn some lessons, but, again, I could not be prouder of my team and the effort they put on the field today.”

After making two subs after the break, Canada threatened again and again, dominating possession and creating multiple quality chances. In the 51’, after a long ranging run, splitting defenders and finding space, Huitema played through to Jessica De Filippo whose cross found Huitema again but, her header went off a defender into New Zealand goalkeeper Anna Leat’s arms. Just three minutes later, Kazandjian put another cross onto Huitema’s head, who again turned it toward goal, but, wide left.

In the 63’, Kazandjian brought a bouncing ball down at the top of the New Zealand box, took a touch to her right, then back onto her left foot and decisively put it into the right side of the goal behind Leat. Canada had drawn one back with just less than 30 minutes to play.

Caitlin Shaw fired just wide in the 68’ after Jordyn Huitema headed a long ball down to Kaila Novak who played back into Shaw’s path but Huitema missed by inches to the left of Leat’s post.

Huitema nearly got in alone in the 83’ after a long ball over the top from Karpenko fell to her, but, Leat was able to challenge and clear the danger. The pressure continued through the five minutes of added time, but, Canada couldn’t break through.

Canada’s starting line-up against New Zealand featured Anna Karpenko in goal, Jayde Riviere at right back, Jade Rose and Maya Antoine at centre back, Julianne Vallerand at left back, and Kaila Novak, Caitlin Shaw, Lara Kazandjian, Wayny Balata, Andersen Williams, and captain Jordyn Huitema from the midfield up through to the attack. In the second half, coach Wilkinson replaced Vallerand with Ariel Young (46’), Williams with Jessica De Filippo (46’), and Young with Sonia Walk (86’).

Despite the loss, Canada earned its best showing in the competition ever with a fourth place finish under newly appointed Head Coach Rhian Wilkinson at the helm, a position she had taken over just prior to the competition commencing.

“The experience Rhian has had over the past few weeks is tantamount to what some coaches will gain over five years, and she’ll probably have to sit down and reflect on this once she is home because it has been a real whirlwind,” said Kenneth Heiner-Møller, Canada Soccer Women’s Excel Program Director and Women’s National Team Head Coach. “She came in with much experience on the world stage as a player, but now she has shown she can excel at this level as a coach, too. I have never seen a coach bring a group together as quickly as she has. I think it is her tactical acuity as well as her personality and experience as a player that has allow her to create trust with these young players.  Everyone who knows Rhian knows she is genuine. It is contagious, the team has adopted that honesty, and it’s been a critical factor in their success.”

Canada had early success in Group D, defeating Colombia 3:0 in its opening match, followed by a second clean sheet victory over the Korea Republic 2:0.  Going into the third match having already qualified for the Quarter-final, Canada took the opportunity to rest several key players and gave significant development opportunities to the extended roster against a technically skilled Spanish side that are current European Champions and have finished in the top three at each of the last three FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups. The 5:0 loss to Spain placed Canada second in the group and set up the Quarter-final knockout match against Germany, who defeated the USA 4:0 that evening to top Group C.

Canada’s 1:0 victory over Germany in the Quarter-Final earned the team six matches in the tournament as a Semi-final berth guaranteed Canada would go on to play on the final two match days.  Even though Canada was consigned to play for third place after 0:1 loss to Mexico in the Semi-final, the invaluable experience earned over six matches will remain with the young, talented team.

Canada’s best young players born in 2001 or later had the opportunity to gain critical tournament expertise as 20 of the 21 players on Canada’s roster saw game time across Canada’s four matches.  The valuable experiences these players have gained against the best international players in their age group will further reinforce the Canada Soccer Women’s EXCEL Program curriculum taught at the Regional EXCEL (REX) Centres across Canada.  Having had the opportunity to put in action the lessons learned in REX, Canada Soccer’s U-17 players have taken another big step in their development towards Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team.

“These tournaments are very beneficial for the team, but even more so for the individual players on their development pathway,” said Heiner-Møller. “The pressure they come under, representing Canada on the world stage, and the growth that happens over the course of the tournament, is very impressive,”.

“While winning is certainly a goal at these tournaments, a more important element is gaining valuable international experience as players track towards our Women’s National Team. Unlike nations that focus on long camps to develop teams ahead of competitions, Canada Soccer is investing in regional environments across Canada to develop individual players, but now having six international World Cup matches behind them, these players have had an incredible experience that will benefit the program, but more importantly each player as they move forward.”

Canada has placed in the top ten participating nations in each edition of the tournament but had previously reached its highest position of seventh in New Zealand 2008 and Azerbaijan 2012.  Canada placed tenth at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, eighth at Costa Rica 2014, and ninth in Jordan 2016.

Canada’s Tournament Statistics:

•       Jordyn Huitema (3), Lara Kazandjian (2), Jessica De Filippo, and Andersen Williams scored for Canada during the competition.
•       Canada’s Anna Karpenko earned three clean sheets; denying Colombia, Korea Republic, and Germany, including saving a penalty kick from Colombia.
•       Jordyn Huitema (vs Colombia), Lara Kazandjian (vs Korea Republic), and Caitlin Shaw (vs Germany) picked up player of the match honours during the competition.