“It’s still going to be a tough test”: CanWNT/CanXNT expecting tough Germany side at ACC as they look to build off of opening-day England draw

The CanWNT/CanXNT is getting set to take on Germany in the Arnold Clark Cup on Sunday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one.

1 game down, 2 to go. 

And for the CanWNT/CanXNT, the games are really starting to come thick and fast here, as they get set to continue their quest through the Arnold Clark Cup with a clash against Germany on Sunday. 

Fresh off of a decent 1-1 draw against England in their opening game, one where they weathered a pro-English crowd and a slow start to etch out a result in the second half, they’ll be looking for more of a complete performance against a solid German side in match #2, one who also came back from an early deficit to draw Spain 1-1 in their opener. 

So for Canada, they’ll look to be ready for what their opponents have to offer on Sunday, as they try to get off to winning ways in this tournament. The first game was always going to be a slog, especially as they found themselves without some key players, and a good chunk of their roster out of season, but with their legs now under them, they’ll dream of being able to grab a win now. 

But at the same time, this tournament is about more than just results for this Canadian team. The defending Olympic gold medallists are one of the teams to beat right now globally, but they want to continue to evolve and develop their tactical identity, of which they showed flashes of doing in their last game, but not enough to be completely happy about. 

Yet, this was always going to be a process, and they recognize as much, so it’s not as if they’re completely down about that, either. They know what they did well, and what they didn’t, so they’ll try to rectify the latter and build off of the former in this game. 

There’s a reason why they chose to be in this tournament, one where they got to play three top 10 nations, as they wanted to endure this process while taking on some top-level competition, and they just got a taste of that in their opener. 

“Yeah, look, if you really want to put yourself out there, you went to this tournament,” Priestman said 2 weeks ago. “I think that’s the reality of it. We want to be competing with the best continuously.”

So now, they’ll continue to try and forge through the fire, all while keeping their heads high and their eyes on the process, as they look to now give Germany a run for their money. 

Before then, however, here’s a look back at some of what stood out from the opener, as well as what to expect from Germany, giving an idea of where Canada will want to be better in that one. 

The good and the bad from the opener:

Heading into the England game, it was hard to know what to expect from both sides, making it hard to predict the outcome. 

On one hand, you had an English side filled with players in-form, and with the home crowd advantage with this tournament being played in the country. Considering Canada’s squad woes on top of that, it made it easy to favour the hosts before the game kicked off, even despite Canada’s recent Olympic triumph. 

At the same time, with Canada having picked up 4/6 points over England last year (albeit, one game came against a hodgepodge Great Britain side mainly composed of English players at the Olympics), you just had a feeling that Les Rouges would make a game out of this, or at least try to.  

And overall, both of those sentiments ended up manifesting themselves over the course of this game. 

To start, it would look like the first prophecy would be the one that would come true, as the Lionesses came out roaring to start the game, looking much the better team. With the fitter legs, the home crowd advantage and then the 1-goal lead that they picked up within 25 minutes, it was hard to imagine them doing anything but win, with the question just being by how much. 

But then, Canada found a way to deliver on the second prophecy, as they woke up, found their legs, and clawed back a result. It was too little, too late in terms of being able to find a victory, but they certainly made a game out of it at the end, which is all you could ask for after their slow start. 

At the same time, if you’re England, you’ll feel a bit hard done by, especially a few days after the game now. Not only did they out-possess Canada (52-48), but they had more shots (12-6) and had more shots on target (9-3), too, making the most of their possession. 

Plus, although there is no publicly available Expected Goals (xG) data to confirm this, it felt like England had the far better chances, too, as most of their shots (and goal) came from within the box, while Canada’s good chances (and goal) came from outside of the box. 

But thanks to a few factors, namely Kailen Sheridan’s 8 saves, Kadeisha Buchanan’s 4 blocks and Janine Beckie’s magical left foot, Canada was able to leave this game with a result. 

So overall, there’s a lot to be both happy and disappointed with if you’re Canada.

First, from a coaching perspective, Canada’s Bev Priestman will be happy with how her team recovered from a slow start, showing good character in a tough situation. On top of that, she’ll also have to be pleased how some of her second-half changes, namely the insertion of Nichelle Prince at the #9 and Quinn in midfield, changed the flow of the game. 

She’ll have questions to ask of her team’s start, no doubt, as well as their uncharacteristic sloppiness at the back, but considering that it’s still early in the year, it’s not the end of the world (yet). 

Secondly, from the player’s perspective, they’ll be pleased with how they grew into the game, especially in possession. In the first half, there were moments where they couldn’t string together 5 passes, but then, they managed to have a few spells where they carved through England with precision. 

Again, they’ll be displeased with the slow start, as well as their struggles defensively, but they’ll also appreciate how they managed the big moments, of which they needed to be good in to grab a result in this game. 

Lastly, from the fan’s perspective, they’ll enjoy how Canada stepped up against a strong opponent. They’ll certainly want more, especially over the course of the 90 minutes, but they’ll know it’s a learning process. 

So overall, the way to sum up the game from most perspectives is pretty straightforward – a little bit of good, a little bit of bad. 

Now, for Canada, they’ll hope that they show a lot more of the former than the latter in this Germany game, because another mixed performance against an opponent of this calibre likely won’t end with another draw, but they’re aware of that, and will look to come out stronger in this one. 

“I thought the second half of that England game looked a lot more like what I would like us to look like going forward, if we bring that, this is a massive opportunity (to pick up wins).”

Jessie Fleming shows up big

But for all of the talk of the collective, as there is certainly a lot to be said about Canada’s overall performance against England, it’s worth noting that there were some strong individual performances to talk about. 

Of course, the performances of Buchanan and Beckie certainly stole the show, so it’s not as if those individual performances were forgotten, but it felt like one certainly was, and that was that of Jessie Fleming’s. 

She might not have finished with a goal, or an assist, but make no mistake, she was crucial to Canada’s success on Thursday. 

Playing as more of a #8, a position she hadn’t played in a while after playing as more of a winger for her club, Chelsea, she thrived in that role, doing a lot of good work on both sides of the ball. 

She didn’t get a chance to influence the game much at the beginning, as touches were hard to come by, but it’s no coincidence that when she started to get on the ball more, Canada’s fortunes changed, especially late in the game. 

There might be no better example of that than a moment late in the game, when the score was 1-1, where Fleming carved through a couple of defenders, looked up, and found Nichelle Prince with a carved ball that died right in the grass in front of the speedy attacker to give her a breakaway.

Prince was unable to convert the chance, unfortunately, but without Fleming’s magic, she wouldn’t have had much of a look at goal there, anyways, as most passes would’ve been under or over hit from where it came from. 

But that’s just a snapshot of what makes Fleming so good for Canada. She might not always have games where she scores or assists (even though she led the team in goals last year, she had just 1 assist), but she just seems to influence the game in so many other ways. 

Be it via her endless running on and off the ball, to her tidy play in possession, and her eye for that killer ball, she is like a clock that never stops ticking in games. 

There’s a reason why at just 23, Fleming has become one of Canada’s most important players, even rocking the armband in this game, and that’s why many expect her to play a big role in whatever success that Canada is able to have in the coming years. 

She proved that at the Olympics, she continues to prove that here, and heading into a World Cup year in 2023, she’ll have no reason to slow down anytime soon in that quest. 

So while the one question that remains with Fleming is wondering what her best position might be for Canada, one thing that you can’t doubt is her quality. 

That was clear against England, and Canada will hope for more of the same against Germany and Spain now, as they look to end this tournament on a high note.  

Jessie Fleming in action against England on Thursday (Canada Soccer/Daniela Porcelli)

What to expect from Germany?

And speaking of Germany, what can Canada expect from the 3rd-ranked side on Sunday? 

It’s a good question, because while there’s no doubt that Germany is a strong side, they’ve taken a bit of a step back from their usual lofty standards as of late, bowing out of the 2019 World Cup in the quarter-finals, missing the Olympics as a result. 

To be fair, that’s also just a sign of the growth that a lot of teams have been having as of late in the sport, especially on the European side, but there’s also no doubt that this German side isn’t the same powerhouse they once were. 

Not only that, they’re a bit shorthanded this tournament, missing veterans such as Alexandra Popp and Dzsenifer Marozsán, among others, further adding to their woes as a team. 

They’ve still got a solid roster, one that can compete, but it’s made some ask the question of what this Germany team is going to look like in this tournament, as there’s an air of mystery surrounding them right now. 

“Obviously, they’ve got some key players missing,” Priestman said. “But they’ve got young and hungry players that are very good at the sort of direct play up and down the pitch.”

She added: “I don’t think the principles of how they play will change, it’s still going to be a tough test.”

But at the same time, if you’re Canada, you have to be ready for a stiff challenge. A slightly weakened German side is still one of the best teams in the world, and they showed that in their last game against Spain. 

Despite being considered underdogs, with Spain being one of the biggest risers in world soccer right now, Germany clawed back a result from down 1-1, doing well to manage Spain’s storm all game long.

So even though they got out-possessed 61-39, the shots were just 9-6 for Spain, and Germany actually had the last laugh there considering that they actually had more shots on target (4-3) than Spain, giving an idea of how they were able to snatch the result. 

Because of that, it’s going to be interesting to see how Canada matches up against that. 

Typically, Canada doesn’t hold the ball much, either, so knowing that, you can only wonder if Germany will be more willing to hold onto the ball in this game, or if they’ll stick to what they did against Spain. 

History suggests that Germany will be more willing to keep the ball, and it’s hard to suggest anything to the contrary, but you never know, so it’s something to monitor. 

For what it’s worth, though, Priestman certainly believes that they will, and is preparing as such. 

“I’d be surprised, to be honest, if Germany comes out how they did in their first game,” Priestman said. “I do think we’ll face a more aggressive Germany, that’s what we’re expecting to see.”

But either way, one thing is certain heading into this game: this will be a tough test for Canada.

Is it one that they can emerge from with a victory? Yes, but it’s going to take a complete performance, right from the 1st minute through to the 90th minute. 

So if there’s one thing that Canada will want to take away from their first game, it’s that they’ll want to ditch a slow start, but if they can do that, there’s no reason why they can’t leave this game with all 3 points, allowing them to build some confidence ahead of the last game. 

It won’t be easy, but it’s sitting right there for them, as they look to continue the Arnold Clark Cup in style on Sunday. 

Having eased into the water in game #1, the last thing that they’ll want to do is leave this tournament with any regrets, so look for them to dive in headfirst for game #2 on Sunday. 

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

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