VANCOUVER - Let the gamesmanship begin.
England coach Mark Sampson fired an early volley ahead of Saturday's Women's World Cup quarter-final with Canada, saying the host country is feeling the pressure despite getting an easy ride from tournament referees.
"Without a shadow of a doubt we're playing the most aggressive team in this tournament," Sampson is quoted as saying in The Guardian. "Whether they're overly aggressive is open to interpretation. We're all aware of the big refereeing decisions that have gone their way. They've been given a very dubious penalty (in tournament opener against China) and we can look at the fouls that have been awarded against them.
"We've got a qualified referee on our staff and, looking back at the games, he says at least quadruple the number of fouls they've actually been penalized for could have been awarded against them. I hope the match referee realizes there's 22 players and two teams on the pitch."
Uruguay's Claudia Umpierrez has drawn the refereeing assignment Saturday.
Sampson was more circumspect in person at his pre-match news conference Friday when asked if he thought Canada had got an easier ride at the tournament.
"It's a hard job refereeing, it's a really hard job ... And when there's that pressure, home-field expectancy, it's very very difficult to remain calm and make the right call," he said. "The facts are that in the group stages that Canada has been awarded more fouls than their opponents in every single game."
Sampson is right on that count although Canada was called for 16 fouls compared to 10 for Switzerland in the round of 16.
"So we'll have to see how it goes (Saturday)," he continued. "We're aware of what type of team we're going to face. We're aware of the potential circumstances ... This will be an English team who will be ready for whatever Canada throws at us."
Canada has been called for 47 fouls in its four matches here, compared to 54 for its opposition. Canadians have drawn five yellow cards, to four for the opposition.
Canada has also given up a penalty, escaping further damage when New Zealand's Amber Hearn hit the crossbar.
England has received three yellow cards, committing 33 fouls and suffering 30. Only South Korea and Thailand have been called for fewer fouls at the tournament.
Sampson says his team is up for a fight Saturday.
"We just want a fair crack of the whip from the referee," Sampson said.
The 32-year-old Sampson told The Guardian that Canada is feeling the heat.
“This is a different Canada who have relied on some fortunate refereeing decisions," Sampson said. "I'm not sure we've seen them score a really strong goal that hasn't come from an opponent's error or a refereeing error."
He also took a playful shot at Canadian coach John Herdman, a fellow Brit with a sharp fashion sense, by referring to his "tight shirts and his Ray-Bans."
Herdman, 39, was reportedly up for the job that Sampson got after coach Hope Powell was fired in August 2013. But Herdman instead signed a contract extension with the Canadian Soccer Association that runs through 2020.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter