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MONTPELLIER — Adriana Leon is ready to kick a meaningful ball having knocked them around in practice the past two weeks.
The striker, along with the rest of Canada’s women’s national soccer team, have been building up to their opening match of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup against Cameroon on Monday, and are anxious for its arrival.
Yet, Canada will have to rev their engines in red for a while longer as its tournament kicks off four days after the opener Friday between France and Korea Republic in Paris.
“I think we’re probably a little bit both, anxious and excited, with a little bit of nerves, but good nerves,” Leon said following a training session in Laverune, a suburb of Montpellier in southern France. “We were in Spain training hard for a couple of weeks and we were a little bit isolated away from here.
“Now that we’re here, it’s very exciting to see all the FIFA buildup and see all the advertisements up. It’s been really exciting to see and we’re really looking forward to the first game. It kind of stinks waiting, we’re ready so we just want the first game to be here.”
Leon, 26, a product of the Greater Toronto Area, will be taking part in her second World Cup. She was a member of the squad who bowed out in the quarter-final as hosts four years ago to England.
Leon recently completed a stint with West Ham United in England and will return to the London-based club next year, having signed an extension prior to joining the national team for World Cup preparations.
“It was my first time in England. I signed January until June it so was just a short-term thing and I actually ended up getting an injury on my quad,” Leon said. “So I was a little bit out of it, just doing the rehab stuff but it was really cool, we made it to the FA Cup final and I got to play in that game coming back from my injury.
“I’m excited about going back. I was really impressed with the English league, it was great. It was a good experience. England loves football, they eat, breathe and play football, that’s what they do over there. It was really cool to be a part of that. The league is slowly growing over there, so every year the league is getting better and stronger and so it was really nice to be a part of that.”
Leon has been with the women’s senior national team since 2012. She has 15 goals in 57 international appearances for her country. Prior to turning professional, she played for the University of Notre Dame, scoring the winning goal in the NCAA national championship game in her freshman year.
Leon transferred to the University of Florida before turning pro and joined the Boston Breakers in the National Women’s Soccer League.
Heading into the World Cup, Canada is on an eight-game undefeated streak. They beat Mexico 3-0 in their sendoff match on May 18, and then played Spain to a scoreless tie on May 24. Lack of scoring might the only, somewhat, concern for Canada heading into their World Cup opener. They have eight goals in their eight official matches this year, five coming in combined victories against Mexico and Nigeria, who Canada defeated 2-1 in Murcia, Spain in April.
“You can’t really be too concerned about it, you only need one goal to win a game,” Leon said. “It’s not like we’re worried about that, we know the goals will come, we’re doing the right things.”
Playing in France, Canada will not be under as intense scrutiny as they were at home four years ago. However, the expectations will be higher on this team as it’s considered, probably, the most talented Canadian national team ever assembled.
“To have the World Cup in Canada, we had a lot of pressure on our team, so now we feel like we can deal with anything,” Leon said. “We feel pretty comfortable when people say this is the best Canadian team there has ever been, it’ true, we’re probably the best that Canada’s ever been. We’re ranked fifth in the world, we are a good team and we’re excited to step on the field on Monday and kick some butt.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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