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GRENOBLE — Residing in France, Ashley Lawrence is essentially playing in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup at home.
Lawrence, who turned 24 on Tuesday, has been playing professionally with Paris Saint-Germain for the past three seasons, so the Toronto product is very familiar with her surroundings at this event.
Lawrence made her World Cup debut four years ago in Canada, so it can be said she is participating in her second home tournament.
“I’ve settled in quite nicely in Paris and the time has gone by pretty fast,” Lawrence said following a training session here Thursday. “It’s a different culture and being away from family, it’s been a big adjustment, but at the same time, I’ve grown a lot as a player. I’m grateful for my time in Paris and it’s really cool to have the World Cup here. It’s a soccer nation and there are a lot of benefits for me playing overseas.”
Lawrence is one of the young veterans on the Canadian roster with World Cup experience. She had an excellent first game against Cameroon on Monday in the 1-0 victory and will be depended upon heavily again Saturday against New Zealand in this picturesque town at the foot of the Alps.
“I think the biggest thing for me has been experience,” Lawrence said. “In the last World Cup playing at home, there is some added pressure, but there is some value for myself of knowing how to be in a game with sold out stadiums and high expectation.
“I think this team has a fine balance of experience and also some newer players and this is their first World Cup. So I think for me, my role is to be that link and help younger players, be kind of a mentor, but also understand my role on the field and that I can make an impact and how I can do that.”
Acting as a mentor to some younger members of the squad, Lawrence is helping some World Cup debutants navigate their way through the tournament. It is still early, but Canada have been in France for the better part of two weeks and in Europe for nearly a month preparing for the event.
“For myself and Kadeisha (Buchanan), we’ve played here for almost three years now and for me there’s familiarity,” Lawrence said. “I know a lot of players in the tournament, I play with them on my club team, but also against them in many clubs in France and I think that does help. It’s a great country to play in so I think we’re happy to be here in Grenoble. It’s beautiful and we’re two days out from that next game.”
Canada showed well in their opening game against Cameroon, even though they would have liked to score more goals in the 1-0 win. Buchanan scored the only goal, heading in a corner late in the first half. It was the eighth time in the last nine games Canada has not conceded a goal, which has a lot to do with the play of their back line that also includes Shelina Zadorsky and Allysha Chapman.
“For Cameroon we prepared really well and we were ready,” Lawrence said. “They have players that are, individually, really good and sometimes it’s a bit orthodox how they play. So at times it’s difficult to play against teams like that, even physically. But I thought we handled it well and that we were solid defensively and collectively as a team.”
New Zealand is expected to take a similar approach Cameroon employed against Canada, keeping plenty of players behind the ball and trying to score on the counter attack. The Football Ferns lost their opening match 1-0 to the Netherlands on Tuesday in Le Havre, conceding a goal deep into second-half stoppage time.
“New Zealand it is easier to see certain (approaches) tactically, but at the same time, it is a different challenge, and for us, we’re prepared for them, but we’re more prepared for ourselves going in,” Lawrence said. “I feel ready, I’m confident in myself and this team and that’s what really counts.
“It’s going to be a challenge. They have some good players, a lot of speed up top, so for us it’s about defensively nullifying their threats and staying disciplined for 90 minutes, but also imposing ourselves on the game.”
Canada went into the tournament as the No. 5-ranked team in the world and managed to get over their first hurdle against Cameroon to earn three points for the victory.
Another win Saturday would cement a place in the second round and would leave them playing for first place in Group E with their final round-robin game against the Netherlands on June 20 in Reims.
“I did see some (New Zealand) highlights from their game against the Netherlands and for sure they did create chances and while they weren’t able to score a goal,” Lawrence said. “But they’re a dangerous team and they are able to create opportunities and we’re aware of that. I think that any game we go into we don’t take it lightly and New Zealand is a good side, but we know that defensively. I trust our team.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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