The Players: Rhian Wilkinson

Rhian Wilkinson knows what it is like when a team gets on a roll. She was there in 2003 when Canada surprised many and reached the semi-final stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003. The team ultimately finished fourth, Canada’s best result in four appearances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Rhian Wilkinson knows what it is like when a team gets on a roll. She was there in 2003 when Canada surprised many and reached the semi-final stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003. The team ultimately finished fourth, Canada’s best result in four appearances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.



“It (2003) came on the heels of a very successful 2002 tournament,” said Rhian Wilkinson in reference to Canada’s silver-medal finish at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2002. “The excitement generated from that tournament was something very special, so you (we) got the feeling that we were going to do something special.”



Wilkinson was new to the Canadian program at the time, having just helped the U-22 squad win a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She then joined the national team in time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003, appearing in all six Canadian matches.



“It was quite the experience,” said Wilkinson.



Born in Pointe-Claire, Wilkinson grew up in neighbouring Baie D’Urfé, QC. She was five years old when she joined Lakeshore, playing for a youth team named the “Strawberries”. She played for the Lac St-Louis Lakers, winning youth medals at the National Championships. From there, she enrolled at the University of Tennessee in 2000, but also played in the W-Leagues with the Ottawa Fury. She also played briefly in Norway in 2005, then again in 2009 and 2010.



Wilkinson’s national debut was 26 April 2003, roughly three months before the Pan American Games and five months before the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Her memorable appearance, however, was her second match on 17 July in Montréal, QC. With friends and family in the crowd, she came on early as a substitute in the first half and contributed a goal in the 2:1 victory over Brazil.



“Even though I had had a first match, it (17 July) felt like my first match,” said Wilkinson. “I don’t think I will ever have something like that again.”



Wilkinson scored three times in the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, including one in her first-ever start on 14 September in Kingston, ON. She then played in six matches at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, starting once and coming off the bench five times.



Wilkinson appeared in her second FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2007. The team suffered a heart-breaking exit in the group phase, finishing ninth overall out of 16 teams. Wilkinson again played in every Canadian match. Then in 2008, Canada qualified for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament and reached the quarter-final phase. This time, Canada was eliminated by the eventual champions USA, falling 1:2 after extra time.



Flash forward to 2011 and Wilkinson hopes to appear in her third FIFA Women’s World Cup from 26 June to 17 July. The team has been on a roll as of late, winning three competitions in 2010 and then winning the Cyprus Women’s Cup in 2011. Wilkinson remains one of Canada’s key players, with her eyes set on a potential 100th international appearance before the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.



“Even though we are training away from home, we still get the feeling that the fans are following us and the country is getting behind us,” said Wilkinson. “It is a lot of fun to have this momentum building up.”



Wilkinson said that support and momentum is pushing the team forward with high expectations in Germany.



“I think that this team can go all the way,” said Wilkinson. “In every tournament, you need a bit of luck. With the talent we have, (though), with the mix of youth and experience, with the training… I believe that we have every chance to be in the final.”



Canada v Germany



Canada has already faced Germany once in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. In fact, it was Canada’s opening match of USA 2003, the tournament in which Canada went on to finish fourth (while Germany went on to win its first of back-to-back gold medals).



Wilkinson played in the 20 September 2003 match against Germany, coming in as a second-half substitute for Kara Lang. Wilkinson was the only substitute made by Canada in the 0:4 loss to Germany.



Amongst Wilkinson’s teammates that year was Charmaine Hooper, Canada’s captain at the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003.



“She really set a standard for everyone at training,” said Wilkinson. “I think that is still part of the team right now (in 2011).”



Also on the team was a young Christine Sinclair, who four years later would be named Canada’s captain. So too was her current roommate during Canadian camps, vice captain Diana Matheson.

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