The CanWNT/CanXNT took on England in their first game of the Arnold Clark Cup on Thursday. Here’s our match report from that one.
All things considered, it was a good point.
Heading into the Arnold Clark Cup, of the three games that they were going to play, the CanWNT/CanXNT probably circled their opener against England as their most winnable match, especially given their recent history against the Lionesses.
At the same time, with it being Canada’s first game of 2022, with many of their players finding themselves out of season, and short a few key regulars, it was never going to be easy, as they’ll know from past clashes with England.
And ultimately, that manifested itself in a 1-1 draw between the two sides. England will certainly rue some missed chances, as they had the chance to win this game a few times, but Canada did well to get back into this match after going down early, clawing back a result.
“This result was a fair one,” Canada’s head coach, Bev Priestman, said after the game. “We were on the ropes at times, we were on the front foot at times, so it was a fair reflection.”
Despite that aforementioned slow start, one that saw them concede rather early on, Canada did well to manage an England side that really seemed to feed off of a strong home crowd in Middlesbrough as the game went on, before snatching a second-half equalizer thanks to a goal to remember from Janine Beckie.
Because of that, it left both teams to share the spoils, as they otherwise couldn’t find the difference, showing that the game was indeed a tale of two halves, as seen by the split between the two teams.
So considering that in the other game on matchday 1 we saw Germany tie Spain late on, leaving all 4 teams in this tournament tied at 1 point through game #1, there’s not a lot to complain about if you’re Canada, although some stiff challenges still await them here.
There’s still a lot for Canada to work on, especially considering that this tournament was all about testing themselves at the highest level and continuing their progression as a team as they get set for World Cup qualifiers later this year, but this is a good start, provided that they build off it.
Now, the good news is that they get a chance to do that this upcoming Sunday, when they’ll take on Germany, allowing them to hopefully continue to grow from what they showed in the second half of this game.
And speaking of this game, here’s a look back at some of what stood out to us from that one, as Canada did well to grind out a point in their first game of the year.
A less than ideal start:
Heading into this game, there were a lot of question marks surrounding this Canadian team.
Obviously, as the defending gold medallists, they were always expected to be a good shout to win, but having struggled in their last camp, missing several players and finding themselves with a large chunk of their roster out of form, there were certainly questions being asked of them heading into this.
And while Canada eased some of those concerns with a good 15 minutes, things quickly faded as the first half went along, which was less than ideal.
Because of that, it was no surprise to see England open the scoring in the 22nd minute, as they really started to knock on the door.
It was an innocent-looking chance that got them their goal, as it came off of a second ball from a punched clearance from a corner, but Millie Bright made the most of it, bringing it down and hitting the ball off the half volley, sending her shot right into the bottom corner.
From there, that left Canada’s Kailen Sheridan to watch the ball sail into the back of the net, giving the hosts a lead, one that they were starting to feel they fully deserved, too.
And based on what we saw from them in the rest of the half, it was hard to dispute them in that claim. It seemed like every 5 minutes, England found another gear, while Canada sunk deeper and deeper, leaving them to hold on as halftime neared.
The good news for Canada from within that, however? They were just 1-0 down as they made it to halftime, so while it felt like the mountain was much greater to climb based on how the flow of the half developed, the game still remained wide-open as the second stanza got near.
Janine Beckie’s revenge tour begins:
So heading into that second half, the big thing to wonder about was how Canada would get back into it, assuming they would.
And as the half wore on, it was a good question, because while Canada did well to calm down and find their legs in the second stanza, playing more of their game, they still needed that magic moment.
But luckily for them, they had someone who was hiding a magic wand in her back pocket, ready to bring that moment, and that was Janine Beckie.
On a nice bit of play in the 56th minute, Jordyn Huitema did well to find Beckie with a pass at the edge of the area, leaving Beckie to take on the English backline in a good area, although it was a bit crowded.
Despite that, Beckie decided to take them on, and take on did she ever, as she faked going outside to her favoured right foot, cutting instead inside onto her left, and then she unleashed a rocket.
From there, the ball seemed to have eyes, as it quickly rose up, and then down, and then into the top corner, giving England’s goalkeeper no chance as the ball nestled into the net behind her, giving Canada their first goal of 2022.
And it was a game-changing moment for Canada. Before that, they looked ready to battle, but felt like they were going to finish the night second-best to their opponents, left to rue their earlier missteps.
But then Beckie changed that, not only tying the game back up for them, but giving them life to go on and win the game, something that they looked a lot likelier to do based on how they started playing after that goal.
Yet, that’s just the sort of thing that Beckie brings to the table for this Canadian team. It seems like she thrives in the big moments, be it in big games, or at moments where her team seems a little down, and this was a perfect example of that.
So while she might be remembered for some of her struggles at the penalty spot in past games, that shouldn’t take away from the sort of impact that she’s had on this Canadian team, as she feels like a forgotten star at times.
The fact that this goal tied her for the 4th-most in Canada’s history with Kara Lang, that’s one of many ways in which that manifests itself, so while it might not always be talked about, Beckie’s impact on this team is crucial, as seen in this game.
So even though she might not be getting the minutes that she deserves right now for Manchester City, who have strangely cast her aside as of late, this is a good reminder of the quality that she can bring to the table.
She just seems to thrive when the going gets tough, and in tournaments, you always need that player on your side, something that Canada is probably very happy to admit.
Kadeisha Buchanan holds down the fort:
But once Canada found themselves back in the game, the last thing that they wanted to then do was to throw it all away, especially as they were starting to find their legs.
And it wasn’t going to be easy to do that, because while Canada looked a lot better in the second half, England didn’t really go away, continuing to find a way to knock on the door.
Unfortunately for them, however, a lot of their knocks went unanswered, as Canada had a doorbell stopper of sorts.
Her name? Kadeisha Buchanan.
Despite facing wave-after-wave of attack throughout the game, but especially at the end as England looked to give their fans something to cheer about late on, Buchanan just seemed to never set a foot wrong defensively in this one, making every key intervention that she needed to.
Thanks to that, she was able to have what they call in basketball a ‘boxscore stuffer’ game, finishing with 10 clearances, 4 blocks, 1 interception and 2 headers won, which to go along with her 74 touches and 47 out of 53 passes completed (89%), overall made for a strong night at the office for her.
Yet, it’s just been like that for Buchanan as of late, be it for Canada or at the club level. There’s a reason why she munched minutes for Canada last year when healthy, going on a run where she played all but 15 minutes between June and November, and that just showed in this game.
Which for Canada, has gone a long way, helping them be as solid as they have been defensively over these past few years.
Sometimes, to lay a good foundation, you need a strong base, and in Buchanan, they’ve got that player, giving them someone to rely upon in key moments.
It might not always manifest itself, but it certainly did in this game, and that allowed Canada to hold on late, giving them a chance to dream of a result.
In the lead-up to this game, there were a lot of questions being asked of Canada’s tactical profile.
That’s not to say that it was bad, as they’d won their gold medal off the back of their strong and cohesive tactical identity, but there was no secret that they needed to change a few things – namely to generate more chances (and finish them).
Because of that, it felt like some tactical tweaks were on the horizon heading into this game, be it the personnel, the formation or something of the like.
But interestingly, that didn’t really end up being the case as the game started, as Canada then came out in their usual 4-3-3, one that switches into a 4-3-1-2 at times in possession.
And it unfortunately showed at times in the attack, as Canada especially struggled in the 1st half there. It didn’t help that many of their players were out of form, and hadn’t played together in a while, but it meant that it was a bit chaotic on that end for Canada to start the game.
Not only that, but it just felt like their game plan played into England’s hands, as the Lionesses did a great job of pressing Canada high up the pitch, making it hard for them to play through the midfield.
Then, though, they made a bit of a tweak, trying to play more of a natural 4-3-3, and to give them credit, that gave them a bit more fluidity. They weren’t getting the control that they like to get in the middle, but they started to find some pockets, allowing them to grow back into the game.
Thanks to that, they were able to get their goal, and not only that, they were able to play a bit more in the second half, turning the game into a lot more even of a game than it was in the first half. There is still a lot of work to do there, no doubt, but they showed flashes, and just need to turn those flashes into more sustained bits of play.
“I thought when we took that third touch, we (instead) could play quicker, go forward quicker,” Priestman admitted afterwards.
Otherwise, they also did so without sacrificing much of their defence. They were a little sloppier than usual there, especially on the goal, just failing to suffocate their opponents like they usually do, but for the most part, they avoided giving up any five-alarm chances.
So given that it was their first game of the year, you’ll forgive that a bit, although it is something to watch for as they get set to play Germany next, as you’d certainly be surprised to see them not be at their usual best defensively two games in a row.
“We shifted things defensively in our press,” Beckie explained. “Made it more difficult to do what they were doing in the first half.”
She added: “(We also) kept the ball a bit better, made quicker and better decisions on the ball in the second half”
Overall, though, there was a fair bit to like here, especially in how they adjusted to a slow start, as Canada did well to get back into a game that looked like it was going to fall away from them.
“I thought that was a much better account of ourselves,” Priestman said. “But don’t get me wrong, it was a tough opposition, tough game.”
So overall, there was a lot to like from this game for Canada, and a lot to chew over.
Which considering where they’re at in their preparation, as well as the level of opposition, is expected at this stage. You would’ve liked to see them come out and grab a victory, no doubt, but these sorts of games are never that easy.
Because of that, as long as Canada continues to grow and progress after this one, this will be looked back upon as a good game. Of course, if they hit a wall, then you’ll start to wonder if there were some missed warning signs, but so far, it’s hard to say that will be the case.
But now, to prove that, they’ll look to go out and give Germany a run for their money on Sunday, and then continue that into their last game of this tournament against Spain next week, ending off this tournament on a high note.
As they continue their long journey towards the World Cup, however, it’s a decent start, and they’ll look to keep on moving up from here, much as they did on the road to Olympic glory last summer.
Up Next: Canada vs Germany, Sunday, February 20th, 2022, 12:15 PST, 15:15 EST (Carrow Road, Norwich)
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Daniela Porcelli