Canada entered the game atop Group A with 4 points; The Netherlands and China were tied with 3 points each; and New Zealand had one. A win for Canada would have guaranteed them a top finish in the group and ideally, a relatively weaker opponent for the Round of 16 (one of the third place finishers). There was a lot at stake for both teams.
The game opened at a feverish pitch. If there had been any doubt that both teams understood the importance of the match, such doubts were rapidly cast aside. Game on!
Much like the USA Sweden game, both teams played their best soccer of the tournament. There was a lot of possession and controlled ball movement. The Netherlands seemed a bit more organized, but it was Canada who drew first blood: about ten minutes in, Ashley Lawrence pounced on the rebound form a Sophie Schmidt shot. Unsurprisingly, the 99% of the stadium full of Canadians and Canada supporters went wild -- Canada 1-0! Lawrence continued to pound on the goal, going just a tad wide, but looking pretty determined.
Strong play from both teams continued, but Canada couldn't seem to break through the Dutch midfield. Both teams were putting pressure on the ball, but the Dutch seemed to be coping with it better, although they were unable to put the ball in the net, thanks to strong work by Erin McLeod (more on that later) and a solid backline. There was one speed mismatch on Canada's left flank -- The Netherlands Lieke Martens just outpaced Canada's Belanger leading to some exciting, but ultimately unproductive, play in front of the goal.
And so, the teams went into half time with a 1-0 game.
The second half brought more of the same, and for a long time, it appeared that Canada was going to win the group with a hotly fought 1-0 victory. So here's a question for the soccer savvy of you out there (that means you Jim) -- when you are up 1-0, poised to clinch your group, and you're in the 74th minute, why oh why do you pull your keeper practically up to midfield to take free kicks? Admittedly, nothing happened directly off these plays, but I really wanted Erin McLeod closer to her box -- yeah, she needs to be engaged, but does she need to be engaged quite so close to midfield? Each time, it scared the living daylights out of me. And then, it happened again in the 83rd minute or so. And while I won't lay blame for what came next at the feet of this decision, it was reasonably soon thereafter that the Netherlands drove the tying goal into the net with a great shot -- the Dutch player Kristin Van Der Ven broke through, McLeod came out and dove a split second too soon, resulting in the ball skimming just above her outstretched hands.
Around now I wanted to know what was happening in the China/New Zealand game. A New Zealand win or a tie would leave Canada in the top spot. Around the 90th minute, the woman next to me pulled up the score to reveal that they were, in fact, tied. So, at the end of the night, Canada remained atop Group A, but only barely.
Onward to Vancouver.