THREE kinds of football
The Gridiron Bears are in Calgary this afternoon. I doubt anyone will read this before the game, so I won't go too hard into preview mode, but I will make my prediction for the record: the Bears will win. Their defence, which shut down the Huskies last week, should have little trouble with the Dinos' offense, while the Bears' offense should start to gel a little more. (Of course, we've been saying that about the Eskimos all year, and look how long it's taken...)
The Bears and Pandas soccer teams opened their seasons yesterday at Foote Field against Lethbridge. I wasn't there, so I don't have much to say, but I will say that it kinda sucks for the Bears to give up the tying goal in time added on. Still, from glancing at the stats and report, it seems like they played pretty well, and they got twice as many shots on target as the Pronghorns (8-4, to be precise). I'll wait until I see them play before passing judgment, but it sounds like there's nothing to worry about.
The Pandas, meanwhile, beat Lethbridge 1-0. That's a far cry from the 5-5 scores I remember seeing in the past, which is a good thing. But if the stats are to be believed, this match wasn't as close as the score. The Pandas forced 'Horns keeper Megan Lumley to make an astounding 18 saves, versus 2 by Alberta's Caitlin Schmidt, and they had six corner kicks to none for Lethbridge. It's a little disappointing to only see one goal on that many chances, but this is still a big step up from the team that didn't make the Canada West playoffs last year (and even from the team that finished fifth in CIS after sneaking into the national championship as hosts). Both teams play Calgary tomorrow, and I won't be there either, unfortunately, so you can look forward to more hearsay-based analysis after those games.
The reason I wasn't there yesterday is a very good one: I was watching rugby. Once again, I wasn't at the same field as team Canada, so I can't give a direct report on the Pandas' contingent, but Katie Murray and Rania Burns did each score a try in a 45-5 win over Kazakhstan (or as the announcer in St. Albert kept saying, "Kazakhastan"). The 40-point win, together with New Zealand's surprisingly close 21-0 win over Scotland and Englands 27-8 win over France, means Canada managed to secure third place, so they'll play England, rather than New Zealand, in the semifinal. This is a good thing, but let's not get our hopes up too high: it just means that Canada has a slim shot at an upset instead of no shot at an upset. That's still definitely better, though.
I did finally see England play yesterday, and they were, as expected, fantastic. You can really tell that they (along with New Zealand) grew up in a rugby culture; they just know how to play the game. They'll be a very tough challenge for the Canadians, but not impossible. And beating them to reach the final would be a huge step for Canadian rugby, to be sure. (Though on the other hand, another Canada-New Zealand matchup might not be great for attendance at the final.)
If (heaven forbid) Canada does lose the semifinal, then they'll meet France in the third-place game. (Yes, I'm once again assuming New Zealand victory. So are you.) France is beatable. They did look good against Ireland (dammit) when I saw them, and they held their own against England, so by no stretch would they be an easy opponent for Canada. The Canucks wouldn't necessarily win, but they'd have a good shot. Frankly, I almost want Canada to lose to England so that the final matches are more interesting: New Zealand-England and Canada-France would make for far closer and more entertaining matches than New Zealand-Canada and England-France, more than likely. (But note that I said "almost": now that Ireland and Australia are out of the running [double dammit], Canada's my unquestioned first choice.)
The semifinals go Tuesday at Ellerslie Rugby Park. Go watch them. There's some fantastic rugby going on there, and there's very little in the world better than fantastic rugby.