MONTPELLIER, France — Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller is urging his players to enjoy the moment as they take the field Monday against Cameroon in their Women's World Cup opener.
"Being from Denmark, I know what it's like not to qualify. Or know some very good players from Denmark who are not here. And what it's feels like," Heiner-Moller told the pre-game news conference Sunday.
"If you're too nervous about (Monday), you need to change that. It's excitement, right? It's about being here, living the moment. We play friendlies and we do like playing friendlies. But it's so different to play World Cups or Olympics. You don't get this moment back.
"That could be pressure, but it can also be a pleasure and an excitement. So hopefully we'll bring that. Enjoy the moment .... I'm not saying this is going to be a walk in the park at all. It's enjoying the tackles, the runs, the taste of blood in (your) mouth when you're actually working hard. That's a part of the enjoyment as well."
It was a stirring answer to a question thrown out by the Canadian team's media officer. And it showed that John Herdman, the former women's coach now running Canada's men's team, does not have the lock on motivational speeches.
The 48-year-old Heiner-Moller, whose first name is pronounced Kennet (without the h), is a polar opposite from the brash, charismatic Herdman, an English ball of energy.
According to captain Christine Sinclair, Herdman is "in your-face-there all the time and intense. Obviously he got the most out of his players and the most out of us as a team.
"Kenneth, I would like to say, is a players' coach in that he played at a high level and understands players' thoughts and understands what they need and don't need. He's calm and cool and I think the thing that you guys don't get to see is that he's absolutely hilarious.
"He makes every day in camp very enjoyable, just laid-back. But when it's time to work, it's time to work."
A midfielder and forward, Heiner-Moller playing professionally for six years in Denmark before moving to Hungary where he spent two seasons with Ferencvarosi, winning the league once and the Hungarian Cup twice.
He finished off his career in Denmark, retiring at 32 after a serious leg and ankle injury, to take up coaching. In 2007, he led the Danish women at the World Cup.
Heiner-Moller's message seems to have got through to the Canadian women.
They have looked anything but stressed since arriving in the south of France. A group showed off their "flossing" dance moves Sunday as the players had their first look at the Stade de la Mosson. Others used their phones to document the moment.
The stadium, located in the northwest of the city, was built in 1972 and expanded to 35,000 seats ahead of the 1998 men's World Cup.
Christian Vieri scored twice and Luigi Di Biagio added a goal as Italy blanked Cameroon in group play at the stadium. And Juergen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff were on target there in the round of 16 when Germany downed Mexico 2-1.
But for this tournament, one of the main stands has had the upper seats covered in decorative tarps.
On paper, 46th-ranked Cameroon would seem to be in tough against the fifth-ranked Canadians.
Fellow African teams South Africa (No. 38) and Nigeria (No. 49) have already lost their first matches here — 3-1 to No. 13 Spain and 3-0 to No. 12 Norway, respectively.
Captain Christine Manie, whose goals helped her country qualify for the 2-12 Olympics and 2015 World Cup, said her Cameroon team has strength through its diversity.
Through an interpreter, she called Canada a "great challenge" and "one of the best teams in the world."
But the 35-year-old skipper also talked up the Indomitable Lionesses.
"Cameroon is going to play as Cameroon knows how to play. It's the name of the game. A lot of people will see how well we have prepared."
Coach Alain Djeumfa, who took over the team in January after the team qualified in November, said the squad had had three international warmup matches against No. 56 Croatia, No. 16 China and No. 13 Spain. The team beat Croatia 2-1 and lost 1-0 to China and 4-0 to Spain.
Heiner-Moller has told his players to forget about the world rankings.
"What we've seen is definitely a very skilful team. Theyv'e got some very very fast players, midfielders who can play and a physical team. So it's going to be a battle. We're looking forward to it."
Fifteen of the 23 players on the Cameroon roster play abroad, with eight plying their trade in France. Others play in Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the U.S.
Cameroon made its World Cup debut four years ago in Canada, beating Ecuador and Switzerland to finish second in its group before losing 1-0 to China in the round of 16.
Cameroon's sports minister was at training Sunday, pumping up the troops with a post-practice speech.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press