While it started as a promising run for Canada at the Women’s World Cup, with 2 clean sheets in their first two matches, things did not end as hoped as Canada ended up finishing second in their group, falling 2-1 to the Netherlands on the last matchday. While this result still ensures them of qualification to the last 16 of the tournament, winning their group would have been beneficial to maintain confidence and theoretically giving them a more advantageous knockout match. Instead, they end up having a slightly harder road to the semi-finals, with a persistent Sweden and one-time champs Germany standing in the way. Here is how the group went down for Les Rouges this World Cup.
Opening match: Canada vs Cameroon
The much anticipated tournament debut from Canada, they (understandably) came out nervy as they played a team they were expected to beat rather comfortably, not scoring until the 45th minute when defender Kadeisha Buchanan nodded home the ball at the back post after a juicy delivery off a corner. While in the end the scoreboard did not reflect the statistical stronghold Canada held on the game, the eye test suggested a team unable to create enough dangerous chances and prone to recycling the ball into an endless loop of useless possession, lacking the cutting edge needed to break the game apart.
But, given that it was an opening match, and Canada has had a history of underperforming in global football tournaments, the 3 points they left with was not frowned upon by anyone. Plus, the 74% possession rate was certainly a number to be excited about, provided they found a way to be able to make more chances out of it in the matches to come.
Second match: Canada vs New Zealand
While things were more tense in the first match, Canada came out a lot more comfortable for this one, once again controlling possession to the tune of 70%, suffocating all attempts at New Zealand counter attacks with some impressive defensive play. They managed to create a lot more chances in this one, putting the Kiwis backline under pressure as they sent wave after wave of attack towards their goal.
While they struggled to hit the target, finding it only 6 times from 24 shots towards goal, the ambition that Canada shown was definitely a positive step after looking so listless in possession against Cameroon. Two nice goals from Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince, who both opened up their World Cup accounts, gave Canada an early second-half lead that they would not relinquish, tying them with the Netherlands for the group lead and setting up a winner takes all last match between the Dutch and Les Rouges.
Third match: Canada vs Netherlands
The heavily anticipated match of this group, it was no surprise to see the balance of the group hinging on this last match, as many expected them to beat both Cameroon and New Zealand handily, setting up a winner takes all scenario. It started out as a cagey affair, with Canada getting an early penalty shout that was initially granted before VAR determined that it was (rightfully) just outside the box, which Canada then squandered by blasting the free kick into the wall.
What had been a strength of Kenneth Heiner-Moller’s squad since his appointment, the vaunted defence, started to show rare cracks later in the first half of this one as the Netherlands were nearly able to capitalize on some lapses in attention on the Canadian side. A poor catch from Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe nearly ended up in the net, before star Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema got in behind the Canada backline with a nice Cruyff turn, before putting her shot square off the woodwork.
Things got interesting the second half, as the goals started to come after what had mostly been an even first stanza. The Dutch found the first goal, nodding one home after a wide set-piece that caught Canada sleeping and unaware, leaving them to chase the match. Surprisingly, after the Canadian offence had appeared dormant most of the first half, they found a goal via a gorgeous ball from Ashley Lawrence that found the feet of the World’s second all-time goal scorer, Christine Sinclair, giving Canada new life in the match. After hitting the post and crossbar many times this tournament, she finally found the back of the net, becoming the second player, after Marta, to score in 5 different World Cup tournaments.
But ultimately Canada let their efforts go to waste, as the Dutch found a match-winner in the 75th minute, when a dangerous low ball slipped through the Canadian box before getting clawed home by Lineth Beerensteyn, giving the Dutch all 3 points. While it was a merited result for the Dutch, Canada could have felt that they let a lot slip away from them during the match, unable to truly assert themselves against the current European champions.
While finishing second in a group as the pot A team can seem disappointing, Canada still made it out the group comfortably, giving them a good shot to continue their World Cup dreams. While Sweden and then Germany if they win will not be easy tasks, they avoided a side of the bracket that includes the USA, France and England, all favourites after cruising through their respective groups. While some people appear too overconfident about the Canadian chances against Sweden, who are surprisingly tough and are a resilient outfit, they have a clear path to the final set up for them if they are able to make the most of their opportunity.
Defensively, Canada was solid bar the few breakdowns against the Dutch, giving fans hope that they can continue that sort of defensive dominance in the knockout stages. This team loves to defend, and with pieces like Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman, Ashley Lawrence and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, Canada has what it takes to keep balls out of the net. Often, in tournament play, defence ends up becoming vital for a team’s success, so continuing what they have done so far gives them hope to continue their World Cup dream into early and mid-July.
Canada’s short list of negatives starts and ends with one thing, which has been the offence. Despite having some key pieces, including Christine Sinclair, Jessie Fleming, Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince, Adrianna Leon and Jordyn Huitema, Canada have not lacked for firepower on paper, but have struggled to translate it into results. Against the smaller teams, they were unable to convert their lofty possession stats into goals, making the matches tighter than they had to be, and against the Dutch they lacked conviction in the final third as they were lacking that pivotal final ball that could push them over the top.
Breakout performances so far from Beckie and Prince on either wing should give Canada hope, however, and Jessie Fleming has been good in the midfield, showing that she can jump up and contribute. If Sinclair can show that her goal against the Dutch is a sign of her luck changing this tournament, she will cause a lot of damage paired alongside a Leon or a Huitema, with Deanne Rose being a potential option as well, giving Canada a chance to erase the lone negative part of their game so far.
Canadian player of the Tournament (to date): Nichelle Prince
So far, this has been Prince’s breakout tournament, as she has been a force down the right side with her pace. She can make something out of nothing, so her inventive nature will surely come in handy in the knockout stage if Canada seems uninspired offensively. A goal against New Zealand was a boon for her confidence, so look for her to continue this coming out party on the global stage.
Honourable Mentions: Janine Beckie, Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence
Canada look to keep their tournament hopes alive tomorrow against Sweden, who looked alright against both Chile and Thailand before putting up a great fight against the US. While their backline and goalkeeper looked rather shaky against the US, they will be more than able to give Canada a good match, pushing them to the brink. If Canada were to win, Germany already awaits them in the next round, but with many fans already thinking ahead to that one, it is crucial that they don’t forget to keep their eyes on their Scandinavian foes.
Canada vs Sweden, Paris, 12:00 PST, June 24th 2019