VANCOUVER — Canadian coach John Herdman, who always has a timely metaphor in his back pocket, reached for the heights Wednesday.
Asked if his players were having fun at the Women’s World Cup, Herdman showed a glimpse of his motivational skills.
“You’re not meant to have fun,” he said with passion. “I mean you climb Everest, it hurts, it’s painful. We’re now in the death zone where the oxygen’s thinner. It’s not meant to be fun.
“But when we look back, that’s when we’ll reflect and go ‘Wow, what an achievement, what we’ve done for our country.'”
Canada plays England in the quarter-finals Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium, knowing it is just two victories away from the World Cup final.
Herdman has used the same “hard climb to the summit” comparison with his players.
“This is where a lot of people fail and fall,” said veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.
“We know that the end is there but that’s not what we’re staring at. We’re staring at what we’re doing today. What are we doing today to be better tomorrow than we are today. Each day improving and making sure we continue the climb and not fall off.”
Canada may be in the death zone but, according to Herdman, it can savour the clarity of the task at hand in the tournament knockout round — only a win will do.
Herdman welcomes that simplicity, especially since eighth-ranked Canada is no longer playing teams below it in the standings where wins are expected.
Sixth-ranked England is the next hurdle.
“England are a very good team and I know my team loves rising to those sort of challenges. It’s going to be great,” Herdman said.
The pressure remains “but it just feels different,” he added.
“It’s almost like you can see the summit, you can actually see it now. And the players have got an absolute focus that it’s not falling off the cliff any more, if you know what I’m saying. You’re not looking to fall off the cliff. It’s about there it is, we’ve got to get there and you’ve got to push through that and do anything it takes to do it.”
On Wednesday, continuing the climb meant dealing with the suggestion that all was not well at the Canadian base camp.
Veteran defender Carmelina Moscato dismissed comments attributed to her that Canadian morale was poor and that some players were upset at Herdman’s starting lineup selection.
Former Canadian international Christine Latham, now working as a TV analyst, made the comments — citing Moscato by name as the source — prior to the Fox TV broadcast of the Canada-Swiss game.
Moscato rebutted the comments after practice Wednesday, saying Latham — while a friend — had misrepresented her words.
Moscato said morale was excellent, a view echoed by Herdman.
“You just look at the goal celebration … Every goal we’ve scored, the player goes to the bench and you look at the passion and the spirit and the connectedness of the players that aren’t playing,” he said.
Captain Christine Sinclair also pointed to the team’s joyous goal celebrations as proof of the team’s cohesion.
“I think some people are trying to create stories, they’re trying to fish for some stories,” she said. “This is the tightest team I’ve ever been a part of — players and staff. The way we celebrate goals, that’s how we are as a team on and off the field.”
Herdman said he had no issue with Moscato, saying she was a team leader with “unbelievable integrity.”
“We’re very comfortable with where the group is and I think you’ll see that passion and energy from everyone on the weekend.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press