Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team kicked off their 2021 Olympic campaign with a 1-1 draw against hosts, Japan, on Wednesday. Here is what stood out to us in that one.
After a bright start, it was a tough late gut punch.
For Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team, in most circumstances, a 1-1 draw with 2021 Olympics hosts Japan would be hard to classify as a bad result, especially for a team that has struggled a lot against Japan in their history.
But having gone up 1-0 just 6 minutes into the game thanks to an early Christine Sinclair goal, her 187th for her country, Canada will feel like they dropped 2 points instead of gaining 1 in the 1-1 draw, as a late Mana Iwabuchi equalizer for Japan spoiled the guests’ party.
So instead of leaving their opening game with all 3 points in their back pocket, confident after beating the hosts, they instead are left to ponder what went wrong for them, as they had thought themselves in control of the 3 points after a dramatic first 80 minutes of action.
Now, though, Canada must turn their attention to their next game, a clash with a solid Chile side, one that has quietly become a must-win one for them knowing that a date with arguable group favourites, Great Britain, awaits them in their last game of the group stage.
With 2 teams going through out of the 4, along with the possibility for 2 of the best 3rd place teams among the 3 groups, Canada will be all but through if they win against Chile, so that’ll be their main focus after this game.
At the same time, there is still a lot of them to ponder after a game like this, both positive and negative.
Here is some of what stood out for Canada, as we dive into what went both right and wrong in their opening game draw with the hosts.
Christine Sinclair does Christine Sinclair things:
And to start the game, it’d be a dream start for Canada, as they scored just over 5 minutes into the game, doing well to settle some early nerves.
Thanks to – who else? – Christine Sinclair, Canada managed to find a quick lead, as Canada’s captain showed why she’s one of the world’s best.
In her 300th cap for her country, an honour only reached by 3 other players at the international level, you just had a feeling that the all-time international goal scorer would find a way to get on the board in this game, but no one expected it to be this quick into the game.
But alas, you should’ve just known that Sinclair would find a way to add to her 186 goal tally sooner rather than later, showing why she’s considered to be one of the greatest of her generation.
The goal was a great example of that. After a nice ball in from Nichelle Prince, Sinclair did well to get her original shot off quickly, striking the uprights.
Then, she showed why she’s known as one of the greatest goalscorers of all time. Seeing that her shot wasn’t going to go straight in, she went right to where she thought the ball might end up, beating the Japanese defenders to the second ball, tapping home her own rebound to give Canada a lead.
As far as goals go, Sinclair will certainly have better to put on her highlight reel, but in terms of a goal that demonstrates why she’s got the offensive reputation that she does have, there might be no better example than that than this.
For Canada, it gave them the goal that they needed in order to give them the belief that they could topple the hosts, kicking off their Olympic journey on the right note.
With over 85 minutes to go after the goal, they still had a lot of work to make that happen, but you had to imagine that getting that emotional boost from their captain would go a long way, inspiring them to a positive result.
But while Sinclair’s game was a big boost, at that stage of the game it was always going to be just that, a boost, so it was important that Canada found a way to manage the game over the line from there.
With so much of the match still to be played, you just wondered if something would go wrong some time in the rest of the game, cancelling Canada’s dream start.
So when Canada’s goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was deemed to have given away a penalty in the 50th minute, having taken out Japan’s Mina Tanaka with a rash challenge, one that appeared to injure Labbe in the process, you could feel the worry creeping in.
With Labbe seemingly unable to continue, fighting back tears as the trainer helped her, one could only wonder if we were witnessing the beginning of Canada’s capitulation combined with Labbe’s last action of the day, clouding what was such a strong start to the game.
Then, Labbe rose up, still fighting back tears and the pain that her apparent upper-body injury was giving her, electing valiantly to stay in to try and save the penalty she herself gave away.
Facing off against Tanaka, she then made some magic happen.
Still hobbled by her injury, she managed to guess correctly which way Tanaka wanted to shoot, getting her hands to the penalty attempt, keeping her team’s lead intact.
Labbe’s injury still proved to be pretty bad, as she was forced to come off not long after, but she made sure that she’d leave a moment behind that people will not soon forget, showing the sort of Canadian grit that people around the country like to identify themselves in.
One bad moment
But then, having done so well to get through the first 80 minutes with their lead intact, one could only wonder if Japan would have any tricks up their sleeve in the last 10 minutes, as they desperately chased an equalizer.
And it turns out they did, as Mana Iwabuchi found a way to get in behind the Canadian defence, doing well to finish off a well-taken volley to tie the game up.
What was most surprising about the goal, though?
How it came about, as Japan just decided to play a simple direct long ball in behind the Canadian defence, and it worked better than anyone would’ve expected, as Canada’s backline was too slow to react to Iwabuchi’s smart movement and quick finish.
With Labbe’s replacement, Kailen Sheridan, slightly off-centre in goal, Iwabuchi also did very well to wrong-foot Sheridan and put the ball into the opposite corner, just overall scoring a very nice goal.
Was it one that Canada will want back? Absolutely, as it was a tough way to give up what was a mostly deserved lead up to that point, especially after the penalty drama.
But alas, games in these big tournaments are won in moments, and Canada was second-best in a big one, costing themselves points in the process.
Otherwise, it was an interesting tactical schema from Priestman in this one, as she elected to go with what appeared to be more of a classic 4-3-3, a formation she has quickly proven to be quite enamoured with.
Offensively, though, it turned into a 4-3-1-2 of sorts, as Sinclair would drop from her perch as a striker into more of a #10/false #9 role, playing in between the lines. With Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie then playing as inside forwards in front of her, Canada was hoping to get a bit more verticality into the final third.
And to be fair, it sort of worked. Prince did a great job of providing that vertactility, making several penetrating runs that caused all sorts of problems for the Japanese defence, opening up pockets for her teammates to run into.
On the other hand, though, Canada’s offence became very right-side heavy, as Beckie and Prince both tended to drift to the right side, where Ashley Lawrence also tended to overlap into attacking positions quite frequently from right back.
Because of that, it left Canada to whip in a lot of balls to static targets from that right side, as they became quite predictable in their plan to get the ball out wide before trying to slice in a cross.
It’s no coincidence that some of their best chances then came from chances originating from the left side and from the top of the box, such as a late Allysha Chapman ball in added time to Lawrence at the back post that she probably should’ve shot first time, as it caught the Japanese defenders off-guard.
So for Canada, they have to put more emphasis on diversifying their attack next game, while also implementing more movement in the box if they are to whip in crosses, instead of hoping that the ball might drop to them. The overall delivery wasn’t terrible, but they often let good balls go to waste by standing still, staying flat-footed at the wrong moment.
At the other end, Canada had a pretty solid game defensively other than the goal, as they mostly limited Japan to non-threatening chances. Given that their defence has been their bread and butter, that’s not that surprising, but it was still good to see them execute some good plays defensively.
The goal itself was a worry, though, as there will be teams with a lot more speed than Japan looking at that goal and salivating, but Canada hasn’t shown to be a team that regularly makes errors like that, so for now, we’ll have to chalk it up as a moment of brilliance.
All-in-all, it wasn’t the game plan that lost Canada the game, but rather execution in key moments at both ends, so hopefully they can find a way to step up that part of their game against Chile, allowing them to grab a result against a tough team.
So now, Canada will look to quickly move past the blow of giving up the late goal to focus on their next game, a clash with a tough Chile side, one that could cause them all sorts of problems if they’re not on top of their game.
As Great Britain learned in the earlier match on Wednesday, Chile is a good team if you let them grow into the game, so Canada will have to be careful to not do that when they play them on Saturday.
Because of that, it only puts a bigger onus on finding a way to execute in the big moments, both offensively and defensively, something that both did and failed to do in key moments, leading to the 1-1 draw.
All things considered, a point is never bad in tournament football, but only if you get points in other games, so to not make this Japan game feel like a waste, it feels like picking up 3 points against Chile can go a long way.
Against a Japan team that beat Canada 4-0 in their last meeting back in 2019, this result is a step up from that, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, but that bad feeling will only go away if Canada improves from what they showed on Wednesday.
They’ve got a chance to go far, but that’ll come down to how well they execute in the big games, a lesson they unfortunately learned in their opening match.
Up Next: Canada vs Chile, Saturday, July 24th, 2021, 12:30 AM PDT, 3:30 EDT (Sapporo Dome, Sapporo)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Twitter