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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – John Herdman flew to Quebec in November 2012 for a coaching conference and another matter he considered rather pressing: To bring Josee Belanger back to the national team for a World Cup run at home.
Once she could understand the Canadian coach's Geordie English accent, they struck an agreement.
Belanger's big left foot propelled Canada right into the Women's World Cup quarterfinal on home soil, with her goal in the 52nd minute lifting the tournament hosts past Switzerland 1-0 in a knockout-round match Sunday.
Herdman is thrilled now that he was so persistent with the versatile Belanger.
"I delivered at the coaching conference and I knew Josee was in the crowd, so I called her out in the crowd in front of all the coaches and said, 'Look, your country needs you,'" Herdman said. "I said, 'Look, girl, you've got a great opportunity with a home World Cup and an Olympic Games just around the corner.' ... I'll never forget that first training session, she dribbled past four players and scored."
Belanger, back at her preferred forward position following a three-game stint on defense in the group stage, controlled a touch from Christine Sinclair and struck it left-footed to finish into the lower corner of the net past diving Swiss goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann.
That's all it took to send rocking BC Place into a frenzy. This is why Belanger is wearing the Maple Leaf once again.
"I was ready to come back and I tried to do best to make a difference. I was coming back also to get the chance to inspire that next generation, which I already started when I was coaching," Belanger said. "I wanted to be an example for them. Each time I go on the pitch, I'm giving my all."
As Belanger pumped both arms in celebration while running back, coach John Herdman jumped into the air as his squad came out energized after halftime. Switzerland's solid attack and pressure in the first half helped quiet the crowd of 53,855 — which topped even the World Cup opener and was noted as the largest attendance for a Canadian national team event in any men's or women's sports.
Canada advances to face sixth-ranked England or No. 11 Norway in the quarterfinals next Saturday back here at BC Place.
The Canadians beat a European team in the World Cup for the first time in 11 tries.
Belanger had a chance at another goal when Thalmann got pulled out of the box in the 68th minute, but Caroline Abbe stepped in and cleared the shot.
In the 78th minute, Canadian goalie Erin McLeod blocked a shot by Vanessa Bernauer right in front of the goal. She had another leaping save in the waning moments of injury time.
Herdman made several successful lineup switches from the final group stage game, a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands last Monday.
Defender Rhian Wilkinson came back from a hamstring injury and Lauren Sesselmann returned to her center back spot while the 29-year-old Belanger moved up front to score her sixth international goal. It was her first goal in 23 matches since 2010.
Swiss star Lara Dickenmann will be thinking about her missed chance. She couldn't get a foot on the ball to one-touch from close range in the 14th minute on a pretty cross from Ramona Bachmann in one of Switzerland's best opportunities.
Belanger also hit the post in the 16th, moments before Melissa Tancredi collided midair with Thalmann, who fell hard to the turf onto her back.
Herdman's team, playing to chants of "Can-a-da! Can-a-da!", advances past the group stage for just the second time in the country's World Cup history. In 2003, the Canadians reached the semifinal and led 1-0 over Sweden before allowing two goals over the final 12 minutes to lose 2-1 and wound up in fourth place.
Herdman stressed how defense alone wouldn't win it, and his team set the tempo in the second half. Canada, bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics after a 4-3 semifinal loss to the U.S., scored only two goals on the way to the round of 16.
Canada defender Kadeisha Buchanan gave Lara Dickenmann a slight shove and made several solid tackles to lead the back line. Buchanan did so after missing the practices leading up to Sunday because of an abdominal injury.
Switzerland coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg — a three-time World Cups player in her day for Germany — embraced the opportunity for her young team to face Canada with its raucous home crowd. For one half, the Swiss hung tough playing at BC Place for the third time in four World Cup matches. They beat Ecuador 10-1 on June 12 in Group C action and lost 1-0 in their World Cup opener to defending champion Japan on June 8.
"It was a highly intense match, exactly what we expected. There was perhaps insufficient consistency on our part up front," Voss-Tecklenburg said. "From the bottom of my heart I'd like to thank the Canadian audience and the Canadians. You're an amazing country."
Kaylyn Kyle entered in the 76th minute for her 100th appearance with the Canadian national team.