By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian soccer fans may be enjoying the ride but for the players, the grind of the Women's World Cup is no fun and the team is still approaching the "death zone," head coach John Herdman said on Wednesday.
Another 50,000-plus crowd will pack into B.C. Place on Saturday ready to party when Canada play England for a spot in the semi-finals but it will be all business for Herdman's crew.
"You're not meant to have fun," a stern-faced Herdman said after putting his team through a training session on Wednesday. "You climb Everest, it hurts, and it's painful.
"We're now in the death zone where the oxygen is thinner.
"It is not meant to be fun. But when we look back and reflect, that's when we can go, 'Wow what an achievement what we have done for our country.'"
Herdman and the players have not avoided the bigger picture of what hosting a World Cup means for the sport's development in Canada but the team has maintained a laser focus on the more immediate goal of winning the tournament.
Standing in Canada's way are a sixth-ranked England team that have been building momentum with consecutive wins over Mexico, Colombia and Norway after an opening loss to France.
The two teams are very familiar with each other, England having beaten Canada 1-0 in the Cyprus Cup final in March while the latter triumphed 1-0 in their final pre-World Cup friendly.
Playing at home in front of raucous capacity crowds has given the hosts with a lift but they have also been weighed down with burden of expectation.
But after having beaten the teams they were expected to beat based purely on world rankings, that seemingly endless pressure has taken on a new form.
"It just feels different," said Herdman. "It's almost like you can see the summit, you can actually see it now. And the players have got an absolute focus that it's not falling off the cliff any more.
"You're not looking to fall off the cliff. It's about there it is, we've got to get there and you've got to push through that and do anything it takes to do it."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)