There has been some banter between the foes — nothing more than a harmless, straightforward exchange in the hotel elevator — but otherwise, the line has been firmly drawn between John Herdman, the Canadian women’s World Cup head coach, and New Zealand, the team that Herdman tutored for six years.
Canada, 1-0 in the Group A standings after a 1-0 win over China, plays New Zealand (0-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Commonwealth Stadium.
“I said to the girls, my biggest fear coming into this World Cup was coming up against my old team and how that can impact you and make you go a little crazy with your decisions,” Herdman said. “I made a promise to this group that I wouldn’t let my ego get in the way. This will never be about trying to beat your old team. It’s just about getting another three points. Six points to top the group.”
Herdman, who was speaking a few hours before he took his team through a closed practice session, was equally as confident that if the Canadians played to their potential, they would defeat New Zealand. The Canadians are not only more skilled, more seasoned, they have scouted the Football Ferns last two years.
That’s not to say New Zealand isn’t equally as prepared.
“To be honest, as a team, we haven’t spoken about John at all. We’re just looking at Canada as a team,” said midfielder Annalie Longo. “We’re going to use what we know as an advantage.
“Obviously, I know a lot about him and learned a lot of things from him, but the way we play now is a lot different.”
With their 1-0 loss to the Netherlands in their opening match, the Ferns extended their winless streak to 10 matches, which stands as the longest in the history of the Women’s World Cup.
Their only result in three trips to the World Cup was a draw against Mexico in 2011.
It was a much easier road to Edmonton for the New Zealand side, which scored 30 goals and conceded none in qualifying wins over Tonga, the Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Still, coach Tony Readings wasn’t about to concede the three points to the host Canadians. He said his side, which has more depth than it has had in past World Cups, pushed the Netherlands in the second half, but needed to create more shots on goal.
“We know we have a strong team; we showed that the other day. We’ve shown that consistently for the last couple of years,” he said. “We do know we have a little bit more to show. That’s what we’re looking for (Thursday).”
After a 16-year absence, New Zealand returned to the World Cup stage in 2007 under Herdman, who developed a program that emphasized development and with it a more structured approach to international competition.
When Herdman left in 2011, Readings, an Englishman who had been coaching the under-20s, stepped in to guide New Zealand to the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“I gave (this team) a good six years of my life and they gave me six years of theirs so I know a lot of these girls from when they were teenagers and now they’re at the peak of their career,” said Herdman, who first faced off against New Zealand prior to the 2012 Olympics.
He’s also been with Canada since 2011, so time has started to erase the emotional ties — for both sides. That’s not to say he won’t catch up with Readings after the game.
“As one of the players told us, they’re going to take three points off of us. I told them, ‘You’ve got no chance.’ That’s the sort of banter that’s been going on in the elevators and the stairwells,” Herdman continued.
“I’ve been clear that (Tony and I) will not catch up until after. We’ll have a glass of wine after the game ... but not before. They’re the enemy at this point. We need the win. We need six points.
“And they’ll bring a higher intensity than the Chinese did.”
Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan said Canada has done a lot of work this last week, preparing for the match.
Against China, there were times when the players veered from the team structure and that can’t happen again.
New Zealand plays with more attack, a more possessive style than China, and rely heavily on creativity of Hannah Wilkinson.
“Where’s Wilkie? is one of the themes for this game,” said Herdman, who will have the option of inserting veterans Rhian Wilkinson (hamstring) and Diana Matheson (fractured foot) into his lineup.
“We know what they’re going to throw at us, unless he decides he’s going to make a complete shift in his system, which he hasn’t done for over 30 games now. We should be good to go, at least confident enough that we know the threats he’s going to put out.
“If he changes, well, it will probably hurt him more than us.”