Canada took on Japan late Saturday night, as they resumed action after taking a break since the World Cup. Here is what we learned.
Canada’s Women’s National Team returned to action for the first time since the World Cup this past summer, as they flew to Japan to take on 10th ranked Japan, with both teams looking to recover from earlier than expected exits in that tournament. Surprisingly, this was both Canada’s and Japan’s first return to action after the World Cup, with both teams not electing to play any matches during the August International window. With 2020 Olympic qualifying around the corner, as Canada looks to try and attempt to win their 3rd consecutive Olympic medal in Women’s soccer, it was a good trip to prepare themselves, with Japan hosting the tournament proper next year.
It proved to be an entertaining contest, with Japan playing in front of a loud crowd in Shizuoka, as their fans ensured that it was going to be a strong atmosphere for the home side. And the home field advantage proved to be too much for Canada to handle, as Japan rode an early goal en route to a 4-0 victory.
Mana Iwabuchi got things going early on in the game for Japan, as she cut nicely in between Canadian centre backs Shelina Zadorsky and Kadeisha Buchanan to slot home a nice low cross from Emi Nakajima, opening the score in the 6th minute. Jordyn Huitema had a nice chance soon after for Canada, but the new Paris Saint Germain striker was unable to convert past Japan’s Ayaka Yamashita.
Canada had positive spells of play throughout the first half, but Japan had the better chances, as Les Rouges were unable to break down a stingy Japanese defensive line. Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe had to make a couple of good stops to keep her team in the game, including a nice diving effort to deny Japanese midfielder Hina Sugita.
Japan headed into half time with a 1 goal lead, as Canada was ultimately unable to muster up an equalizer before the half. And Japan only added to that lead in the second frame, with second-half substitute Yuka Momiki coming on and doubling their lead with a nice shot high at the near post. It was a nice goal from Momiki, as she did well to win the footrace to a rebound after a good stop by Labbe on Yui Hasegawa, and she made no mistake with the time and space she had to put away the rebound from in close.
They would then capitalize on an unlucky error from Buchanan, who missed her attempt to clear a Japanese long ball while running back. Iwabuchi pounced on it, taking it behind the defensive line and passing it across to Hasegawa for an easy second goal. Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer, Christine Sinclair, came close to cutting into that lead soon after, but her powerful volley was well blocked by a Japanese defender.
Despite the scoreline, Canada continued to put in a strong defensive effort, one that was best exemplified by an incredible defensive recovery by Ashley Lawrence late on. After Hasegawa had made a great run to get in behind Canada’s defenders, she seemed sure to add her second on the breakaway, but she was only denied by a strong last-ditch block from Lawrence, who tracked all the way back after the corner to stop it. It would be Canada’s last hurrah, however, as Japanese substitute Mina Tanaka made a great run through a couple of defenders in the 92nd minute, before calmly slotting the ball to fellow sub Rikako Kobayashi, who put the ball into the roof of the goal behind Labbe with an equally as calm demeanour.
After a disappointing end to their World Cup campaign, with Canada bowing out much earlier than expected against Sweden, it was another tough result to stomach for them once again here against Japan. On the road, against a tough Japanese side, it was never going to be easy, but losing 4-0 was far from what people expected. Here is what we took away from the performance.
Canada’s scoring woes continue
Canada struggled to score in France throughout the World Cup this summer, and that continued on Saturday. Against a stingy defensive side, they were unable to conjure up much in terms of quality chances, only hitting the target twice. After only scoring 4 goals in 4 games over the World Cup, it was disappointing to see Canada continue to stutter, because with names such as Jordyn Huitema, Janine Beckie, Christine Sinclair, their offence should not be that big of a problem.
On Saturday, they were too rigid in possession, passing the ball well from the back up through the middle, only hitting a roadblock when trying to move things into the final third. With a lack of movement offensively, they made things easy for Japan to defend, as they were unable to create many overloads in order to break down the home side. Huitema and Sinclair played well off each other, but the ball didn’t get to them often enough, and when it did, they would get outnumbered due to a lack of support.
If Canada is looking to compete for a medal in next year’s Olympics, they’ll need to find a way to muster up more offence, as it would be disappointing to see a lack of goals be the death knell of this talented squad.
Back 3 not as expected
After mostly rolling with the 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2 during the World Cup, coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller moved to a 5-3-2 against Japan, and the results were less than stellar. Too often Japan was unable to pull the 3 out of position, playing smart balls in between the lines and by capitiazling on defensive miscues, which was reflected in the scoreline.
With Canada looking strong defensively in the World Cup despite their offensive woes, it was a tough step back in terms of performance, as Japan found a way to break down Canada’s experimental lineup with ease. The switch to the 3 made sense in theory, with Canada having several strong centre backs, but it appears that it will need some work before they attempt to trot it out in future competitions.
Preparation for Olympics underway
This trip was a good chance for Canada to prepare for next year’s tournament, as they took time to train and bond ahead of the Olympic qualifying process. With Japan hosting next year’s edition, it also gave the Canadians a chance to get a taste of Japan’s culture, showing them what to expect if they are to qualify once again.
After not playing any games last window, as they elected not to convene and play friendlies like many of their rivals, it also gave them a chance to catch up with one each other before jumping into qualifying later this year. While it’s clear they still have some things to work on if they are to chase a podium finish, it was good to see them convene and play together once again, as they prepare to jump into another rigorous journey towards their next long-term goal: chasing Olympic Gold.
Cover Photo: Canada Soccer