"Deutsch-land, Deutsch-land," the crowd sings as a rematch of the 2013 European Championships final unfolds in Ottawa. The powerhouse Germans find themselves level with continental rival Norway, late in a match on a sunny Thursday evening. Anja Mittag's early marker for Silvia Neid's side has been cancelled out by a wonderstrike free kick from Norway's Maren Mjelde, and the game sits deadlocked.
As somebody who has grown up in Ottawa, a city which only recently received a professional second division soccer club, this day seemed unlikely. That 18,000-plus would pack the north side of Lansdowne Stadium, and be treated to a highly-skilled match between two of the world's best women's footballing nations, seemed out of the realm of possibility. Yet here it is, playing out in front of my eyes. The crowd seems to go back and forth, starting with Deutsch-land chants and ending with Nor-ge ones. It's all very surreal as Celia Sasic, Ada Hegerberg, and co., some of the best women's footballers on the planet, trot around the pitch in Canada's capital.
Soccer is very much still a niche thing in the hockey-dominated sports landscape of Ottawa, yet nearly twenty thousand have turned out on a workday afternoon to support the women's game.
Romanian referee Teodora Albon blows her whistle for full-time, and one of the marquee games of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup's group stage ends all square, 1-1. In her post-game presser, German coach Silvia Neid will state that her side deserved to win, having outshot the defensive Norwegians 27-4. Norwegian coach Even Pellerud, the former leader of Canada's women's program, will admit his side was lucky.
But the day isn't about the result, not for me at least, nor the neutrals amongst the crowd. It is about watching quality football in a nice setting, and that is exactly what was on display in a tense match between the staunch European rivals. German midfielder Dzsenifer Maroszan especially dazzled, eliciting ooh's and ahh's from the crowd in a Player-of-the-Match performance.
The nightcap of the day's doubleheader is a match of an entirely different kind, with tournament newcomers Thailand and Ivory Coast squaring off in what is likely their only respective chance to claim a victory at Canada 2015.
The second end of Thursday's double dip features none of the elegance and technique of the first match, as Ivory Coast lunges into tackles with gusto and Thailand struggles to string passes together. However, there's something intriguing about Thursday night's duel: both sides are gunning for their first-ever victory at the tournament, and it shows. Defence is an afterthought as both teams commit hordes of players forward, resulting in a very north-south style of play which keeps the crowd on its toes.
"Nueng" Srathongvian's Thailand side emerge as 3-2 victors, despite having been outshot 17-8 by their African counterparts. The crowd, featuring two of the loudest supporter's sections seen thus far in Ottawa, is electric throughout the night, erupting on all five goals while giving the teams a warm send-off at full-time.
Though later replays will show two of Thailand's three goals to have been clearly offside, Ivorian coach Clementine Touré stands tall in the post-game presser, citing her team's lack of finish as the key reason for its defeat and insisting her team has learned valuable lessons at Canada 2015. The darlings of Group B, Ivory Coast had won the hearts of many neutrals by the full-time whistle, and the affable Touré is a very likeable figurehead for the country's burgeoning women's football program.
The historic night for Thailand peaked at the 75-minute mark, when Thanatta Chawong headed the eventual winning goal home from short range before racing over to the corner flag to celebrate in front of frenzied Thai fans.
Though Thursday's two matches at Lansdowne Stadium were completely different in terms of their crowd composition, outcome, and overall skill level, they put on fantastic displays of where the women's game is, and where it can progress to. Germany and Norway showcased where the pinnacle of women's football currently sits, while Thailand and Ivory Coast treated fans to a thrilling, if somewhat less technical, display. The fact that the Asian and African newcomers are even in Ottawa, playing on the world stage in front of nearly twenty thousand people, is a testament to how much the women's game has grown.
Reason for further optimism? The game can only continue to grow from here.
Story and photos by Carlos Verde
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