Not long after the hour mark of Canada’s World Cup opener, FOX announcer Tony DiCicco said, “They need to do a wave or something to get it going here.”
This was the first match of a much-anticipated World Cup being played on home soil with an exciting young team that had people dreaming of a dark-horse run to the title. And things had gotten so bad that we were talking about the wave waking up a sellout crowd of over 53,000.
Now we can argue about the wave (it’s bad) or DiCicco’s feel for the match, but it was inarguable that Canada’s first match of the tournament was not going according to plan.
Little changed for the rest of the match. Canada was the better team, but only slightly. National hero Christine Sinclair looked bored and ineffective.
The Canadians were bound for a very disappointing draw against a China team that should have been outmatched.
Then, out of nowhere, Zhao Rong committed a silly foul in the box, the referee pointed to the spot, and Sinclair buried her stoppage-time penalty kick to give Canada a win.
Was it deserved? Debatable.
But it came, and that’s all that matters. The Canadian players walked around the field clapping for the fans and basking in the start of a tournament that offers them much promise, even more so with three points.
It would be silly to call Canada’s opener three points won and just leave it at that, though. The host looked nothing like a potential dark horse. It looked like a team that will struggled to get out of the group, something it knows all too well after finishing fourth in its group four years ago.
The good news is that hosts toiling in their openers isn’t exactly new.
Canada saw that first hand in 2011 when Germany struggled to salt them away, with the Germans only winning 2-1 against a team that went on to finish dead last in the tournament.
For years, the hosts hear about the big crowds that will be on hand, the support they will have, and the opportunity to grow the game in their countries. Then they walk out on the field and see it all — years of hard work and preparation finally coming true with tends of thousands of people watching each move, cheering and moaning the whole time.
That isn’t a pressure players are used to, and all the while the other team gets to feed off the excitement without any of the burden.
Canada and China both looked their parts on Saturday.
So Canada needs to get better. It probably will. And China probably played its best match of the tournament. Openers are always a trip.
In the meantime, before Canada gets around to figuring out what the hell went wrong and how it’s going to make a run to the final, it can just bask in that feeling of standing at midfield while over 53,000 cheered a dramatic three points many years in the making.
It didn’t even need a wave to get it done either.