EDMONTON, Alberta — Canada held a training session at Edmonton Soccer Complex on Thursday afternoon just as thunderstorms rolled in. Diana Matheson did light training on the side with fellow recovering players Rhian Wilkinson, and Marie-Eve Nault. If neither Wilkinson nor Nault are able to play in Saturday’s opener against China it is expected that Josee Belanger will start at right-back.
Wilkinson has been fighting a hamstring injury for some time. She would not say which specific hamstring ails her as she preferred to go with a “lower body” explanation. The former Ottawa Fury defender has been working with physiotherapists and taking part in extra training sessions as she looks to get match fit and overcome her injury.
“It’s one of those frustrating injuries, it takes a little longer than you hope,” Wilkinson said. “It’s moving along well and progressing fast.” The 33-year-old Wilkinson did not play in Canada’s 1-0 win over England on May 29. She also did not see the pitch on Monday, May 25 when Canada played Nigeria in a closed-door, 0-0 draw in Toronto. Her injury occurred during a previous national team training camp and it’s something she has been working to put behind her.
“Just in the last training camp it’s been something that’s been bothering me for a bit. I just sort of gave it a good yank. It’s been a couple of months now. I’ve just had it for a little bit, and I didn’t take care of it properly.”
The 24-hour deadline to make any roster changes is quickly approaching. It does not appear that John Herdman will make any last-minute alterations to his 23-players roster. Injuries to Matheson, Wilkinson, and Nault will have to improve as the tournament progresses if they are to recover and see any action. Herdman provided a brief update following training.
“They’re just returning to play. The goal is to get them back in this tournament. That’s why we’ve kept them in the squad. Wilkinson, she’ll be back a bit quicker than Matheson. Matheson, we’ve got a return to play plan. Hopefully last game of the first round. If not, we’re into the knockouts and that’s where we expect Diana to come back.”
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod was the only player John Herdman was willing to confirm as a starter vs China. The question mark at right-back will go unanswered for now as the English-born manager was not willing to confirm Belanger’s inclusion at right-back.
“I can’t tell you that, unfortunately. That’s a little card up my sleeve. If anyone watched the England game, I think the Chinese will be scratching their heads because we never even considered Josee in that position. We’ll keep our cards close to our chest on that one and we’ll leave that one for a surprise.”
Belanger shock off early nerves and was able to settle down and contribute positively to Canada’s victory over England. Not only did she setup the winning goal, but she was not a liability that England could take advantage of. Belanger’s quick pace allows her more time to learn on the go as she gets more comfortable playing as a full-back.
“That was my first experience. We’ve got injuries. I’ve got pace so that was a good thing to try, and it worked out. We’re a team so whatever the team needs, I will be ready for that.”
Wilkinson and Belanger will have to wait and see who John Herdman decides to go with on Saturday. A striker filling in at right-back in an opening World Cup match could always be a risky play. Wilkinson maintains she is up for selection.
“It’s always John’s decision. I’m day-to-day so John will put out the best team for Canada, absolutely.”
Notes: Ukraine referee Kateryna Monzul has been assigned for the opening match between Canada and China.
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