- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Sophie Schmidt’s hip hurts. The star Canadian midfielder arrived back to the Vancouver airport on crutches, sending thousands of soccer-crazed Canucks into a state of serious anxiety.

Schmidt and her teammates are about to play in the country’s biggest Women’s World Cup match ever right on home soil, and she will tough it out through the discomfort Sunday afternoon against Switzerland in the tournament’s round of 16.

No chance she’s missing this opportunity on the world stage in her home province. Schmidt, with her pink-tinted blonde hair, grew up in nearby Abbotsford.

“I am crutch-free,” she declared Saturday before Canada took the pitch for its final pre-match training session. “These are the moments that the best players need to be the best players. I’m welcoming the opportunity to step up. I have it within me. I’ve put in three good performances and I think I can even build on those. I’m ready.”

If coach John Herdman starts her, of course.

“It’s questionable,” he joked.

Both squads were training at BC Place Stadium, where sun shone through the open roof Saturday as the grounds crew mimicked a match-day schedule down to when the sprinklers came on to irrigate the turf ahead of Canada’s special soccer moment. A crowd of more than 50,000 is expected.

Swiss coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who played in three World Cups herself for Germany, doesn’t mind being an underdog in this one.

“It’s a very special situation during this World Cup,” Voss-Tecklenburg said through an interpreter. “Now facing the host team, we have an atmosphere that will be unique. Regardless of the result, it will be an incredible experience for our young team. It’s fantastic to be playing in a near sold-out stadium.”

Group A winner and eighth-ranked Canada has scored only two goals in the tournament and Herdman knows that won’t be enough in the knockout stage against the Swiss, who finished third in Group C but had one-goal defeats in their two losses to go with a 10-1 rout of Ecuador.

The winner will advance to face sixth-ranked England or No. 11 Norway in the quarterfinals at BC Place - and the Canadians are hopeful of sticking around for at least another week.

The countries have played four times previously, three wins by Canada and a draw. They last faced off in a 2-0 victory by Canada at the 2013 Cyprus Cup.

Switzerland already found success at BC Place with a 10-1 rout of Ecuador on June 12 in its second match of the group stage.

Here are some things to watch for when a mass of Maple Leafs invade the stands Sunday:

SWISS SCORERS: Forward Ramona Bachmann has three goals and an assist, while Fabienne Humm also has three goals - putting them in the tournament’s top-five scorers going into the round of 16. Forward Lara Dickemann also creates on the attack.

Bachmann had taken 17 shots, second most through the group stage, with seven of those on target. She once told Herdman his shoes were ugly, but he still respects her game.

“She’s the Messi of Switzerland,” he said.

HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Canadians planned to be playing this weekend, even if they had hoped to advance out of their group in more impressive fashion with more than just a win and a pair of draws. Canada has been carried by its defense thus far.

Now, it’s a new start to the tournament, Herdman insists.

“Defending well won’t be enough,” he said.

DECISION-MAKING: Voss-Tecklenburg will lean on her extensive playing and coaching experience come Sunday “to make the right decisions.” Her message to the Swiss: Show courage.

“It’s important to be calm and courageous and do our best to get the Canadian team to break a sweat,” she said.

O-FER EUROPE: Canada has never beaten a European team in the World Cup.

This will be the Canadians’ 11th try.

“It’s a good stat,” Herdman said. “We have to find a way, Canada, because we don’t have another chance.”

MATHESON’S HEALING: Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson could make her World Cup debut, but it will be off the bench after she has worked back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee suffered in late October.

Matheson was a full participant in training Friday for the second time and can now take contact. She is giving her teammates a lift.

“She’s doing amazingly well to come back from what she’s come back from,” Herdman said. “It’s been wonderful the quality that she brings to the team. She smashed one in from 25 yards and the entire team just erupted.”

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