The goal is clear: Win and they’re in

Canada’s World Cup road goes through un­likely Pana­ma­nian star ’keeper

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - LAURA ARM­STRONG SPORTS RE­PORTER

If there is a cult hero in this it­er­a­tion of the CON­CA­CAF Women’s Cham­pi­onship, it’s Pana­ma­nian goal­keeper Yenith Bai­ley.

The 17-year-old shot-stop­per has wowed in a break­out tour­na­ment, help­ing Panama to a shock­ing sec­ond-place fin­ish in the group stage. Ad­vanc­ing to the semi­fi­nals against Canada on Sun­day evening means they’re just a win away from se­cur­ing their first World Cup berth.

Bai­ley shut out Trinidad and Tobago in the opener, and a 5-0 loss to the pow­er­house United States would have been much worse with­out her be­tween the posts. She also stopped a po­ten­tial go-ahead penalty shot as Panama up­set Mex­ico to ad­vance.

Te­na­cious saves and a cool head have earned the ’keeper a wealth of praise from fans and op­po­nents alike.

“It’s so much more than foot­ball,” Cana­dian striker Ja­nine Beckie tweeted last week along with a photo of Bai­ley pray­ing af­ter Panama’s 2-0 win over the Mex­i­cans. “Very in­spired by this young women, Yenith Bai­ley. En­joy the mo­ment, girl!”

“She’s young, but she is skil- ful,” Cana­dian coach Ken­neth Heiner-Moller added dur­ing Satur­day’s press con­fer­ence in Frisco, Texas. “I think what lies ahead of her is very in­ter­est­ing. I hope she doesn’t have the best stuff … to­mor­row, with­out ac­tu­ally wish­ing some­thing bad for her.”

The favoured Cana­di­ans will show no mercy with World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion on the line. Heiner-Moller vowed his fifthranked team won’t be over­con- fi­dent against the No. 66ranked Pana­ma­ni­ans. Of the eight teams en­tered, Panama ranked ahead of just Cuba at the out­set.

“I think we’ve been good at hav­ing one step at the time, look­ing at the op­po­nent right ahead of us,” Heiner-Moller said. “It’s about play­ing to our per­for­mance every time, no mat­ter if you play the best team in the world or some­one who is not. It’s our per­for­mance we can do some­thing about, and that’s the stan­dard we need to set every time we are on the pitch.”

The teams have met just once be­fore in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion: a 6-0 Canada win in 2004. The only Cana­dian on the cur­rent ros­ter who played in that match is mid­fielder Diana Math­e­son, who will earn her 200th cap should she step on the field Sun­day.

The wild card is the weather. Frisco, in the Dal­las-Fort Worth area, was un­der flash flood watch Satur­day and rain is ex­pected on Sun­day. Hein­erMoller said bad weather could be an equal­izer. Canada prides it­self on pre­ci­sion pass­ing, which is harder if the pitch is soak­ing wet.

“I don’t want to say it’s for the ben­e­fit of one of the teams,” the coach said. “It’s just sad if (the weather) has a big im­pact on the game.”

The Cana­di­ans feel they’ve im­proved in each match while outscor­ing op­po­nents 17-1.

“It’s all small things that we did good, we’re now do­ing very good,” Heiner-Moller said. “That’s a part of when you look at the part­ner­ships we’re build­ing across the pitch.” On the CON­CA­CAF broad­cast af­ter Thurs­day night’s win over Costa Rica, Cana­dian cap­tain Chris­tine Sin­clair la­belled Sun­day’s semi­fi­nal matchup “mas­sive.”

“It’s some­thing we’ve been build­ing on th­ese past four odd years,” Sin­clair said. “We’ve got a le­git squad of 20 play­ers that can step in and make a dif­fer­ence … it’s what has al­lowed us to be peak­ing for our next game.”

AC­TION FOTO SPORT GETTY IM­AGES

The Cana­dian lineup that has outscored op­po­nents 17-1 in Texas fea­tures (back row) Ju­lia Grosso, Ash­ley Lawrence, Re­becca Quinn, She­lina Zadorsky, Ja­nine Beckie, Nichelle Prince, (front row) Chris­tine Sin­clair, Diana Math­e­son, Stephanie Labbé, Allysha Chap­man and Jessie Flem­ing.

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