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FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup

Dream homecoming for Canada's Fletcher

Jon So Yon (R) of Korea DPR and Emma Fletcher (L) of Canada battle for the ball.
© Getty Images

Emma Fletcher's World Cup story is a tale of two different tournaments, two different jerseys and two very different experiences.

In 2012, in the unfamiliar surroundings of Azerbaijan, the midfielder played in the all-white of New Zealand and returned deflated, having lost all three matches. Now, two years on, the 19-year-old is a beaming, conquering hero, having just clinched a place in the U-20 quarter-finals in front an elated home crowd.

But those cheering fans, with the notable exception of her father, were not Kiwis, and nor is Fletcher. Born and bred in Victoria, British Columbia, she is now representing her native country and is thrilled to be doing so on home soil.

"I'm Canadian," she explained, "so Canada has always been my first choice and the natural team for me. When I was younger, it just wasn't the right fit at that time and it was cool to be offered a different experience. I feel I gained a lot from it too. But when the chance came to link up with Canada again, I knew it was the right thing to do.

"I had a great experience with New Zealand at the U-17 World Cup and I loved the girls on that team. But this - playing in my home country for my home country - is something special. It's just amazing. And although both World Cups have been awesome experiences, what I'm doing here is something I've always dreamed of.

"To be able to celebrate a night like this, especially playing at home, has been probably the highlight of my career so far. This tournament has definitely been the craziest thing I've ever experienced. To hear everyone cheering you on has just been so, so cool, and all the girls in that dressing room just want to keep this going for as long as we can."

Although both World Cups have been awesome experiences, what I'm doing here is something I've always dreamed of.

Already, by qualifying for the knockout phase, this team have prolonged their journey at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup longer than any of the three Canadian sides that went before them. Andrew Olivieri's side managed it in style too, beating Korea DPR - traditional giants at this level and champions in 2006 - to complete a recovery that at one stage looked impossible. Certainly, only the most unshakable optimist could have imagined tonight's scenes of jubilation when the hosts, having lost their opener to Ghana, found themselves 2-0 down to Finland at half-time of their second Group A fixture.

"We've grown a lot throughout the tournament, and we've needed to," said Fletcher, who helped her team turn that deficit into a 3-2 victory. "After our first game, we were all pretty worried. And things were looking pretty bad at half-time in the Finland game. But it seems to have brought out the best in us because when the pressure has been on and we've needed to perform, we've managed to get the results we needed."

Now, having climbed one mountain, Canada and Fletcher face another. This particular peak looms in the imposing shape of Germany, two-time winners and, on current form, arguably favourites to triumph in this year's edition. But as she emerged from a noisy, jubilant dressing room, the teenager could only see the positives in a showdown with such an impressive, in-form team.

"The celebrations have been great and we're all really happy," she said. "Our goal is the semi-finals but getting through the group was always going to be tough enough, so we feel we've really achieved something tonight.

"But we know there's still a big job to be done at this tournament, and how tough Germany are going to be. For now we're just going to enjoy the night and the fact we've got through. But tomorrow the focus turns to Germany. I've never played against them with either New Zealand or Canada, so it will be a new experience for me. Whatever happens, it's going to be fun."

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