GRENOBLE, France – There will be a familiar face on the touchline on Saturday when Canada and New Zealand battle at Stade des Alpes in Group E action at the World Cup. Coach Tom Sermanni will look to lead the Football Ferns to their first World Cup win. If history is made it will come against a country Sermanni worked with as an assistant coach at the 2015 World Cup. Having spent a year and a half with Canada, Sermanni could have some valuable insight into how New Zealand can get the better of Canada. Having key knowledge of any opposition team is always vital, but it doesn’t necessarily come as a massive advantage.
“It’s a kind of double edged sword,” Sermanni explained to The Equalizer. “You do know the players, so you have some information on the players, but you also know how good some of them are. Sometimes you’re better not knowing. Overall, it helps in a sense of being able to give some information to our players, and that’s always of benefit.”
While Sermanni has links to Canada, Katie Bowen and Abby Erceg can also offer some insight. The New Zealand defenders both play in the NWSL and have matched up with Canada’s top players.
“I play against them a lot, week in, and week out,” Bowen explained. “With Tom having coached in the NWSL, and me currently playing in it, and Abby (Erceg), we’ve kind of given our team some insight into what they could do. They’re a solid team, top five in the world. We know it’s going to be (a) hard match. Whoever shows up on the day will get the three points.”
It has to be an odd feeling for Canada, seeing a former assistant leading the opposition. Sermanni is viewed in a positive light. There is nothing but respect, and admiration for him, and how he was able to assist Canada at a home World Cup.
“Obviously we played them last World Cup,” Canada captain Christine Sinclair said. “Coached by Tom, which is a little strange with him being our old assistant coach. I’m sure he knows us fairly well. They’re a gritty team, well organized, another team that makes it difficult to play. It’ll be a good game.”
Hot take: if Tom Sermanni adjusted the team culture to make it good and fun to play for New Zealand again without making the team significantly better at soccer, that’s a net positive
— Claire Watkins (@ScoutRipley) June 11, 2019
Stay in football long enough, and you’re bound to cross paths with former coaches, and teammates. There might be a quick hello, but once that whistle blows, both teams will be fighting for three points and a chance to solidify a spot in the knockout round.
“I think it’s just the way the game goes,” Janine Beckie said. “He’s familiar with our structure, and the things that we do. That makes it harder in some ways. They’ll be more prepared than maybe another team would be. They’re strong defensively, and have a good block. It’ll be difficult, but I think we have some things that we can do to trip them up.”
If there is anyone on Canada who might know Sermanni the best, it’s Shelina Zadorsky. Sermanni coached Zadorsky with the Orlando Pride last season. Canada’s defense will look to Zadorsky and Kadiesha Buchanan to try and prevent New Zealand from gaining any offensive rhythm.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with Tom with the Pride as well,” Zadorsky said. “Great guy. He knows a lot about our culture, and some of our styles of play. It’s a World Cup game, we’ll come out and try and exploit different things that they give us. It’ll definitely be a strong battle out there.”
— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) June 13, 2019
The Glasgow native, isn’t the only coaching connection between the two countries. New Zealand keeper, Erin Nayler recalls where Canada’s previous head coach got his start.
“Our old staff from New Zealand Football all moved there, and took their team for a few years, John Herdman and his crew. We know a lot about Canada. We know the way they play, and we hope Tom can have even more inside information.”
Yes, Sermanni will indeed have some insight into how Canada wants to play, but it’s up to New Zealand to go and secure a result. It’s a tactical chess match that comes down to which team can execute on the day, and earn a result.
“I don’t know how much of an advantage, but it will slightly help a little bit,” Sermanni explained.
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