“We just found a way to win”: CanWNT/CanXNT continues strong start to Arnold Clark Cup with gritty 1-0 win over Germany

The CanWNT/CanXNT took on Germany in the second game of the Arnold Clark Cup on Sunday. Here’s our match report from that one. 

It was a much-needed bounceback. 

Fresh off of a decent 1-1 draw against England in their opening match of the Arnold Clark Cup, there was no doubt that the CanWNT/CanXNT were looking to take a step forward in their second game of the competition as they got set to take on Germany Sunday. 

Despite the solid result in that opening game, there was no doubt that they had a lot more to give in terms of their performance, as it took a strong late push and a moment of magic to come back from a slow start, one that saw them trail inside 25 minutes. 

So heading into this game against Germany, you had a feeling that they’d come out flying, proving that they’d learned their lesson from the England game. 

And fly did they ever, as they scored inside 10 minutes for just the 3rd time since the start of 2021, before cruising to their first win of 2022, doing well to hold onto a 1-0 result the rest of the way. 

It wasn’t all that easy, as it took a herculean effort defensively to keep the Germans out, and they certainly dodged a few bullets in their quest to do that, but they won’t mind, as that allowed them to finish this second matchday atop the Arnold Clark Cup table. 

Ultimately, when the going got tough, they certainly did what they needed to do in order to win, and probably got unlucky not to add to their tally, so overall, there was a lot to like in this one for Canada. 

“It wasn’t amazing,” Canada’s head coach, Bev Priestman, admitted afterwards. “But there were definitely some good spells where we looked dangerous.”

So even though it wasn’t their best overall performance, and certainly not their prettiest, they did what they needed to do to win, all while showing a lot of growth from that England game. 

Because of that, hopefully that can give them confidence as they get set to tackle the last game of this tournament, a clash against a very solid Spain side on Wednesday, their next step in the journey towards World Cup qualification, which really gets going this summer. 

Sometimes, you just need to go out there and grind out a result, and Canada certainly did that on Sunday, and they’ll hope that’s just a sign of what’s to come for them in 2022. 

Fresh off of a gold-medal-winning Olympic year, it’s always going to be tough to top that, but they can certainly try, and with this win, just their 2nd over Germany in their history, it shows that they’re still pushing in the right direction to be able to do that. 

Rare set-piece goal marks strong start: 

As the game got set to kick off, one could only wonder what version of Canada we’d see in this game. 

Would it be the Canada that started the game slowly against England, finding themselves in a hole early on? Or would it be the Canada that woke up in the second half of that game, clawing back a result with a valiant effort in the second half?

Against a solid German side, who even despite some absences are still a team to beat, you were certainly hoping that it would be the latter, but considering Canada’s past history, it felt like the former was the far likelier option.

But then, almost surprisingly, Canada actually came out and grabbed control of the game early. Knowing that they could grab control atop the table with a victory, their play seemed to reflect that, as they brought the game to the Germans early on. 

Thanks to that, they managed to grab a very early lead, coming in the 7th minute. 

Off of an early corner, Janine Beckie stepped up to take it, and she lofted in a peach of a ball towards the back post. 

From there, all that was left was for a Canadian player to jump up and get a head on it, and that’s where Vanessa Gilles came into the picture.  

Despite having a defender on her, she evaded her marker, jumped up, adjusted her neck and then thumped the ball on goal, finding the net with her attempt for her first Canadian goal. 

Not only that, but it was also Canada’s first goal off of a set-piece (penalties not included) since February of 2021, and first headed goal off of a set-piece since the beginning of 2020, making it a special goal for many reasons. 

“Vanessa goes and puts it in the back of the net,” Priestman noted proudly afterwards. “That’s straight from the work being done in the training ground.”

But you can just chalk that up to the Jen Hurst impact. Canada’s new goalkeeper coach, the former Welsh staff member is also a set-piece specialist, something that Canada wanted to get better at this year. 

And considering that in just their 2nd game of this new year, they’ve already found the net via that avenue, clearly that’s a sign of that move paying off already, which is positive to see if you’re Canada. 

“Jen has been absolutely fantastic,” Gilles said. “She’s come in straight off the bat and has really tried to innovate and bring new ideas to our set-pieces.”

Because of that, expect to see a lot more of those kinds of goals this year from this team. With set-piece specialists such as Gilles, Kadeisha Buchanan and Shelina Zadorksy known for popping up with goals in the box for their club all the time, there’s no reason why Canada can’t be better at that part of their game with them in their squad. 

So while this goal might not have seemed special at the time, other than it being Gilles’ first goal for her country, it’s hoped to be the first of many goals that will come off of Canadian heads in 2022, as they look to weaponize an area of their game they previously failed to make the most of previously. 

Sheridan, Buchanan and Gilles hold on:

But then, with the lead intact, there was still a lot of time, 83 minutes in fact, for them to have to hold on for a victory. 

Typically, given Canada’s pedigree, you expected them to hold on from there, as they’ve made a habit of defending leads quite well over the last year, but it was still a tall ask for them. 

Having scored so early, not only were they going to have to defend tightly, but do so while Germany chased an equalizer at all costs, putting Canada under siege. 

And because of that, it made for a nervy rest of the game. Germany certainly huffed and puffed their way towards an equalizer, too, finishing with 54% of possession and 10 shots, just demonstrating their efforts to get back in this game. 

Yet, despite that, every time they fashioned together an attack, they were met by the same sight – Kailen Sheridan, Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles. 

No matter how they fashioned the attack, be it on the ground, through the air or by some other combination, they always seemed to be stifled by Canada’s trio at the back. 

From Gilles and Buchanan on the back line, to Sheridan in goal, it made for a frustrating night for the Germans offensively. 

But that was just a typical night at the office for Canada’s backline. There’s a reason why they were able to win the Olympics by scoring just 6 goals in 6 games, and that’s because they allowed only 4, and they haven’t lost that part of their game. 

“Canada has always been known as a nitty-gritty, love-to-defend kind of team,” Gilles said. “That’s our bread and butter.”

Even as Sheridan has had to step in for the now-retired Stephanie Labbe in goal, she hasn’t missed a beat, either, and this game might be the best example of why some are so excited for what the 26-year-old can bring to Canada in the future. Now that she’s started to find her legs for her country (we have to remember that this is just her 20th appearance for Canada), Canada is in good hands in goal, especially with Buchanan and Gilles sitting in front of her, allowing them to keep that defensive solidity. 

And even as they continue their quest to score more goals, that’s something that they’ll hope won’t go away any time soon, either, as it can be so effective in games like this. 

So while the attack might not yet be at the level that they want it to be at, even despite some good progress in this game, they’ll be able to rest comfortably in games knowing that if anything goes wrong, Gilles, Buchanan and Sheridan will be there to mop things up (and a special shout out to Zadorsky). 

“They want to defend, they love defending,” Priestman said of her backline. “We’ve got a world-class back 4, really.”

Canada huddles after their victory vs Germany on Sunday (Canada Soccer/Daniela Porcelli)

Quinn makes strong return to the lineup:

When compared to the England game, the performance was night and day for Canada. 

There are many reasons for that, of course, including the fact that a lot of their players found their legs after playing just their first game together in 2022, as well as the fact that this was a slightly shorthanded Germany side, to be fair. 

But one reason that felt obvious right from the first kick? The re-insertion of Quinn into the starting lineup. 

In the last game, Quinn came off the bench, left to do damage from a supersub position, and to give credit to them, they had quite a shift, playing a big role in Canada’s 2nd half turnaround. 

So because of that, Priestman trusted them to earn back their starting role, and they made the most of it, putting in an excellent 77-minute shift in the heart of midfield. 

Be it defensively, where they got stuck into several crunching tackles, to in possession, where they were just spraying passes all over the park, it was a solid, no-nonsense performance from the Canadian midfielder. 

But that’s just what they bring to the table in these sorts of games, as we’ve seen from last year. Formerly more of a centre back for Canada, Priestman has deployed Quinn mainly as a deep-lying #6 and even as a #8 since she’s been in charge as Canadian manager, and it’s made a big difference for her side in midfield.

Because of that, Quinn has gone from a forgotten name in this squad to a locked-in starter, and there’s no better example of why than in this game. 

Canada looks like a much more fluid side with them in it, so as they look to improve their two-way profile, you have to imagine they’ll return to the starting lineup on more of a regular basis after finding themselves as a sub lately. 

“What we see from Quinn is that they constantly show for the ball, has bravery on the ball, and just plays between lines,” Priestman said. “They (also) have no problem playing behind the backline, and I think when you’ve got someone who is constantly showing for the ball, it’s brave, where there’s pressure or not you trust to give them the ball, so it makes a big difference to how we build up.”

Tactics:

Lastly, just a quick note on Canada’s tactics from this game, as they once again showed some interesting things in this area against Germany. 

Again, much like was the case against England, they didn’t tweak much from what they’ve been doing since the Olympics under Priestman, which is to use a rigid 4-3-1-2 on and off the ball that sometimes turns into a 4-3-3, but it worked very well in this game. 

Offensively, possession was a bit hard to come by at times, but thanks to their 3 in midfield, as well as the link-up of the front 3, they were able to put together some good quick moves, allowing them to do well in transition. 

And that’s probably going to be something to expect a lot more of going forward. Against tier-one opposition, Canada isn’t always going to hold a lot of possession, but if they can put together some swift moves in transition, they’ll be alright. 

So while they didn’t score on any of those moves in this game (admittedly, Nichelle Prince probably should’ve drawn a red card on one in the 2nd half), it was good to see them progress on this side of this game here, helping them cause problems for the Germans at times. 

“That’s who we can be,” Priestman said of those flashes. “As well as the other things that we’re seeing in spells, I think now when we play top teams, we need to see those spells more often.”

Otherwise, to shift from the offence to the defence, there isn’t too much else to say there, other than that Canada was a bit sloppier than usual in midfield, but made up for it with how decisive they were in their own box. 

They might have spent a little more time in their final third than they would’ve liked, no doubt, but they made up for it by being dominant in those moments, which makes it something that you can stomach for now.

Normally, you’d like to see them push up a bit higher, especially on the press, but given that they grabbed such an early lead, it’s also worth noting that score effects probably also played a big role in how they sat further and further back as the game went along. 

“Overall, it wasn’t our best on the ball performance,” Priestman noted. “It was a very transitionally scrappy game. I thought we started really bright, but particularly in the last 20 minutes, we just found a way to win.”

Looking Forward:

So overall, much like the first game, there was a lot to like, and a lot to chew on for Canada. 

At the same time, though, from a global perspective, it was a much-improved performance for Canada, one that they can be a lot more satisfied with as they get set to head into their third game of this tournament. 

It might not have been perfect, of course, but it doesn’t have to be at this stage of the process, one where they’re looking to continue to grow as a team each and every game. 

And considering that they did that, and managed to get a result against a top team out of it in the process, you’ll take that. 

Now, of course, they’ll want to continue on that same path, but you can’t help but be encouraged, especially as Canada gets set to tackle some crucial games later this year. 

Up Next: Canada vs Spain, Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022, 6:30 AM PST, 9:30 AM EST (Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton)

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Daniela Porcelli

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