- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - Canada’s dream of winning the World Cup at home is becoming increasingly plausible to a habitually modest nation.

Rhian Wilkinson feels it in the raucous crowds from her position on the back line. Coach John Herdman senses it from fans every time he steps outside. Canada wants the Cup, and it’s only three matches away.

“We’ve made our country proud, and that was a big part of what we said we were going to do here,” said Herdman, the Canadians’ English coach. “Now it’s (time) to really push the envelope and take this team to somewhere it’s never been before in a World Cup. That’s the motivation now, not the fear.”

But the Canadians’ next obstacle is England, a team feeling much the same about its own historic effort - and even attracting Prince William’s ardent support - on the way to their compelling quarterfinal matchup Saturday.

Canada is in its first quarterfinal since 2003, while England is fresh off its first-ever victory in the knockout stages of a World Cup when the teams meet at BC Place, which will be packed both with home supporters and a fair share backing the Lionesses.

“The pressure is not on us, to be brutally honest,” England midfielder Karen Carney said Friday. “The pressure is obviously on the home nation, similar to back in the (2012 London) Olympics when it was on us.”

The Canadians have thrived under that pressure so far.

Canada has yielded just one goal in four World Cup matches, dominating with a hard-nosed style of play despite scoring just three goals themselves. Erin McLeod has stacked up three shutouts in Canada’s net, but England plays an inventive game that has generated six goals from four matches.

England has a higher world ranking, but Canada has its home crowd - roughly 55,000 screaming fans in Vancouver or anywhere they play. It’s tough to pick a favorite, but both teams seem confident they can keep their momentum rolling.

“This team is so ready for this match,” Wilkinson said.

Here’s what to watch in the final match of the quarterfinal round:

GAMESMANSHIP: England coach Mark Sampson was respectful and complimentary Friday in the pre-match news conference, but he was a bit testier in an interview with The Guardian earlier in the week. Aside from genially poking Herdman for wearing tight shirts, Sampson pointed out the foul discrepancy favoring Canada and criticized every goal the Canadians have scored in the tournament.

“The facts are, in the group stages, that Canada have been awarded more fouls than their opponents in every game,” Sampson said Friday. “So we’ll have to see how it goes. … It’s going to be difficult for the officials. They’re in a very intimidating environment.”

BRING IT ON: Herdman declined the chance to exchange posturing about the officiating Friday, but he underlined the attitude he has attempted to instill in the Canadian ranks, saying his players have “aggressive DNA.”

“We’ll be going out there as physical as we can and just doing what Canadians do, you know?” he said. “Seeing that Canadian grit. We’ve picked up five yellow cards in the tournament. We’ll be the typical Canadian team you’ve seen over the last few years.”

ENGLAND RISING: Sampson and Carney are thrilled by the attention they’ve received back home, where women’s soccer is barely a footnote in the normal sports calendar.

Wembley Stadium’s famed arch will be lit red and white for the match, which has been moved to a BBC One broadcast. Prince William has emerged as a strong supporter, generating further attention for the sport.

“As President of The FA, I am delighted that women’s football has become such a central part of our daily work across the country,” the Prince said. “The senior England team are the pinnacle of this, and I am sure all football fans will join me in hoping they do well.”

Carney hopes the Lionesses’ success sparks growth of the game in England - and not just for young women.

“Over the last four or five years, especially after the Olympics, it just rocketed and went through the roof,” she said. “And hopefully we’re trying to inspire a nation back home and get participation rates back up.”

SUNNY SKY: The teams expect sizzling summer temperatures - at least by Canadian standards - on the BC Place field, which can get a bit suffocating. Neither team expects an advantage, but fatigue could emerge as a significant factor.

“We’re used to the sunshine. We’re English,” Sampson said with a straight face. “It’s a pretty sunny day in Birmingham today, probably.”

NATIONAL PRIDE: If the Canadians needed any more motivation, there’s this: a victory would put them into a semifinal meeting with Australia or Japan in Edmonton on Wednesday - which just happens to be Canada Day.

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