By Mark Colley
She’s won gold at the Olympics and played professionally around the world. Now, Ottawa’s Vanessa Gilles is on the brink of another massive career accomplishment.
She’ll make her World Cup debut with the Canadian women’s soccer team tonight when they take on Nigeria in their first group stage game at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Competing for Canada at this year’s tournament, which runs from July 20 to Aug. 20 in Australia and New Zealand, is “incredible,” Gilles said in an interview with TSN as Canada’s roster was unveiled. “It’s every athlete’s dream to reach the pinnacle of football.
“To be able to be on this journey from the qualifiers to here, live in Australia, it’s obviously incredible.”
Gilles helped Canada qualify last year, when the team made the finals of the CONCACAF women’s championship against the United States. The Canadians lost that final 1-0, meaning they’re still on the hunt for a ticket to the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The defending Olympic champions will attempt to qualify for the next Olympics on Sept. 26, when it hosts Jamaica in the second leg of their home-and-home total-goals series in Toronto.
Despite winning gold in Tokyo, Gilles said she feels Canada doesn’t get the respect it deserves on the global stage.
“The feeling is still, ‘Oh, the Olympics, oh, it was lucky,’” she said in an interview with CBC Sports. “We still have that identity of underdogs and we still have that bone to pick.”
The Canadians will be out to prove they deserve their place at the top of the soccer world at the World Cup. They’ll face Nigeria, then Ireland (July 26 at 6 a.m. ET) and Australia (July 31, 6 a.m. ET) in the group stage. The top two squads will advance to the round of 16 bracket. All matches are broadcast on TSN.
Gilles said she’s most looking forward to facing the host Aussies. While the stakes could be sky-high in Canada’s final game of the round robin in their strong group, there’s an added layer for Gilles.
Professionally, Gilles plays for Lyon in France’s Division 1 Féminine league. One of her teammates there, Ellie Carpenter, hails from Australia and will be playing defence for the hosts at the World Cup.
For Gilles, there’s more than gold on the line. There’s bragging rights.
“There’s been a little banter there,” smiled the former provincial-level tennis player who only started playing soccer at age 15.
The Louis-Riel high school grad said defence will be Canada’s strongest asset in the tournament.
“Our DNA, our grit as a Canadian team has been our defence from top to bottom,” Gilles told TSN. “Everybody has this mindset of not wanting to let anybody go near our nets, score a goal. Whether you’re a striker or defender, it chips away at your soul when we get scored on.”
Another asset is Canada’s diversity, she said. Its athletes play professionally around the world and bring everything they’ve learned to the World Cup roster.
“We all bring our own little juice, our own little flavour,” Gilles told CBC Sports. “That makes Canada great.”
Gilles has learned her fair share in France, where she previously played with FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Ottawa TFC Soccer Club product said she doesn’t miss much food when she’s abroad — she’s living in France, after all — but there’s one piece of Ottawa’s culinary scene she can’t shake.
“The bagels — I do love Kettleman’s Bagel,” she told CBC Sports. “Best bagels in the world.”
If Canada has its way, it will end this tournament as the best team in the world, too.
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