GRENOBLE – Canada clinched its place in the knockout round of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup on Saturday night by beating New Zealand 2-0 in both teams’ second match of Group E at the Stade des Alpes.
Jessie Fleming, a midfielder from Ontario currently enrolled at UCLA, opened her World Cup scoring account in the 50th minute to give her country a lead it would not relinquish. Nichelle Prince of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash doubled the lead in the 79th minute by finishing into an open net after Christine Sinclair neutralized New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler with a headed shot off the post.
“We got the goals in the second half, but the lead in was the entire first half when we passed the ball very good,” said head coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller. “I think we’ve continued growing, from match one to match two. We’ve been very good taking one match at a time. We’ve taken two steps forward, now hopefully we can take a third.”
Canada is now tied on points with first-place Netherlands in Group E, but is in second place because of goal differential. The two teams play one another next Thursday in Reims to decide the group.
New Zealand will play Cameroon at the same time in Montpellier, but will likely only be playing for pride after going winless in its first two games.
“It’s disappointing today …When we play our game, and when we play well, we can beat anyone,” Katie Bowen said of New Zealand’s performance. “Today just wasn’t our day. Tough day at the office.”
Canada looked comfortable from the start against New Zealand, which is playing in its fifth World Cup here in France but has never won a game in the competition.
Sinclair, who celebrated her 36th birthday on Wednesday, helped stretch the opposing back line and nearly converted off a Sophie Schmidt corner kick in the 18th minute, but headed off the bar. New Zealand’s Katie Bowen eventually cleared the ball off the line after Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan headed the rebound back toward goal.
New Zealand lucked out on Sinclair’s shot off the bar, but managed to frustrate the Canadians for most of the first half while rarely venturing into the attacking third.
Things changed and sped up more for Canada in the second half.
First, Janine Beckie fired wide of the far post in the 46th minute from just outside the lower left corner of the box. Moments later, she returned to left back and played a through ball to Prince.
Prince took possession, ran freely into the box, and then squared the ball to Fleming, who picked out the far post past Nayler.
“Our movement off the ball up front opened up for us in the second half,” Prince said. “We were just a lot more mobile than we were in the first half. And just capitalizing on our opportunities. I think we had more quality in the final third.”
In contrast, New Zealand produced few chances and never appeared to settle into much of a rhythm. The Ferns had to substitute defender Catherine Bott out of the game in the 18th minute after she hurt her hand on defensive clearance in New Zealand’s end of the pitch.
The match also featured eight players from the National Women’s Soccer League. Canada used five NWSL players out of the gate — Prince, plus her Dash teammate Sophie Schmidt, as well as Orlando Pride defender Shelina Zadorsky and Sinclair of the Portland Thorns.
Allysha Chapman of the Dash also came in for Canada off the bench. Defender Abby Erceg of the North Carolina Courage and Bowen of the Utah Royals also started for New Zealand.