HAMILTON, Ontario (Reuters) - Despite the storm raging in world soccer, the show must go on and Canada and England met in a women’s friendly in front of a passionate sellout crowd on Friday that offered hope the game can survive its latest crisis.
Deflated and weary from a week of shocking scandals triggered by a U.S. investigation into allegations of rampant corruption, fans tuned out the controversy and slipped into national team jerseys, filling Tim Horton Field and soaking up the passion of two teams preparing for the Women’s World Cup that will kick off in Edmonton on June 6.
“For these women, it is not about the money, it’s about the game, it renews your faith,” said England supporter Kevin Mackowski. “And it’s good soccer, it’s a truly beautiful game.”
The party atmosphere inside the stadium provided a stark contrast to the gloom and despair that has hung over the sport since FIFA was rocked to its core by the arrest of seven senior officials as part of a probe into widespread financial wrongdoing.
Battered but unbowed, Sepp Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA for a fifth term on Friday despite demands that he quit in the face of a major bribery scandal that plunged soccer’s governing body into the worst crisis in its 111-year history.
The players from both squads did their best to keep the focus on the action on the pitch but may be facing a losing battle with FIFA fallout set to overshadow their World Cup which will run from June 6 to July 5 in six cities across Canada.
Blatter’s re-election has raised fresh questions over his leadership with the possibility of civil war in international football and unhappy sponsors demanding reform.
But none of that was a concern for the two coaches whose laser-like focus is locked in on a World Cup now just eight days away.
”FIFA could have been abducted by aliens in the last week and it wouldn’t have bothered us,“ Canadian coach John Herdman told Reuters. ”I wouldn’t have cared because our only focus is on this team and the women’s World Cup.
”Football is always going to go on. Regardless of what is happening, the game will go on.
“The genuine fan just doesn’t really care about that stuff. The genuine fan just wants to see two goals, two teams and a game of football and that is how simple we try to keep.”
Canada will head to Edmonton for the tournament opener against China riding the momentum of 1-0 win over England but more important than Friday’s result was the experience of playing in front in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 23,197.
”The girls were able to feel what it was like to play in a packed house under pressure and played freely,“ said Herdman. ”There was a lot of pressure on that game.
“They rose to that pressure, that pressure of performing knowing they had to get a result to get the momentum.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes