“We have to be ruthless”: The CanWNT/CanXNT ready for unique Spain challenge to close out a so-far successful Arnold Clark Cup run

The CanWNT/CanXNT are getting set to take on Spain in the final game of the Arnold Clark Cup on Wednesday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

The short sprint is about to come to an end here.

6 days after they kicked off at the Arnold Clark Cup with a game against hosts, England, the CanWNT/CanXNT is getting ready to close out that tournament with a clash against Spain on Wednesday. 

And there, they have a chance to do something that not many expected them to be able to do heading into this – win the tournament, of which they can guarantee with a win against the Spaniards, with a draw or loss also keeping them alive depending on the result of England vs Germany later that day. 

Which for this Canadian team, is a huge bonus on top of what has been a pretty solid tournament for them so far. Heading into this competition, the goal was to test themselves against some tier-one opposition in a tough environment, giving them a chance to improve their tactical profile while also getting a taste of what to expect as they get set to officially begin their 2023 World Cup journey later this year. 

Of course, it’s not as if this Canadian team is unfamiliar with this level of competition, having managed to get through some top teams en route to their Olympic gold medal last summer, but with the looming challenge of the World Cup now sitting on the horizon, they knew that they need to keep on pushing, hence their inclusion in this tournament. 

But it was probably even beyond their expectations to then see them go out and pick up 4 points out of a possible 6 so far, drawing England 1-1 in their opener, before finding a way to beat Germany 1-0 in their second game. 

Yet, in that first game against England, they just found a way to keep battling after a slow start that saw them go down 1-0, before riding a hot start and their usual defensive prowess to a 1-0 win over the Germans in that second match.  

So now, heading into this clash with Spain, they’re looking to just keep building off of what they’ve so far shown in these first two games, allowing them to wrap up this tournament with a bit of silverware. 

They’re getting set to take on arguably their stiffest test yet in the Spaniards now, so it won’t be easy, but based on what they’ve shown, they look up for that, and will look to prove that on Wednesday. 

Before then, however, here’s a look back at some of what stood out from that Germany game, before looking ahead to what to expect from Spain. 

Germany win continues top team prowess for Priestman:

They just continue to find a way to get it done against top teams. 

It might not have been pointed out much when it happened, but it’s worth noting that with their win over Germany, Canada actually extended an undefeated run of 9 games against top 15 opposition, dating back to the start of Bev Priestman’s tenure. 

And that’s massive for Canada. 

Previously, under former manager, Kenneth Heiner Moller, Canada were winless in their last 9 games against top 15 opposition, losing 6 of those, a run that lasted between April of 2019 and March of 2020 (Heiner Moller’s last games with Canada). 

Since Priestman has been in charge, however, things have changed quite drastically, as after losing her first two games against top 15 opposition back in February of 2020, she’s gone on that 9 game undefeated run, winning 3 of those games. 

You’d like to see them turn a few more draws into wins, of course, but the fact that they’ve been able to stay close in all of those games, scoring 8 goals and conceding 4 in those 9 games (the total is 8GF, 7GA, +1GD overall), that reflects quite well on them. Especially when you consider that on that 9 game winless run under Heiner Moller, they were outscored 17-3, it’s been a big difference under Priestman, especially on the defensive side of things. 

Canada’s always been pretty good at beating the teams they should beat, for the most part, but while that’s certainly something that you’d want to see them do, winning games against big teams is what will win them tournaments. 

And that’s why they’re in this tournament in the first place. 

They could’ve done what they did last year, which is enter She Believes Cup, but there, beyond the prospect of playing the top-ranked US, it’s hard to say that playing 2 of the 16th-ranked Iceland, 22nd-ranked New Zealand and the 24th-ranked Czech Republic would’ve done much for Canada right now. 

So instead, they looked at the Arnold Clark Cup, where they knew they’d have a chance to take on 3rd-ranked Germany, 8th-ranked England and 9th-ranked Spain, three favourites to win the European Championships later this summer, and accept the challenge that doing so would offer them. 

And so far, they have to feel validated by that choice. Of course, they’ll be quite encouraged by their results, but even beyond that, there’s been a lot to like from Canada in this tournament. 

They’ve still got a lot of work to do now, as they’re still not yet at the level that they’ll hope to be at ahead of the World Cup, but that they’ve gotten a chance to get this experience against top-level teams is key, something that isn’t lost on them. 

Ahead of a tough CONCACAF Championship this summer, where both a spot in the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics is on the line, they’re looking to ensure that they’re at the top of their game for that one, and based on what we’ve seen from them so far, they’ve done pretty well in that quest to date. 

Building off of potential ‘threats’: 

And one area that they’re looking to improve on specifically? Their attacking play.

That was something that they highlighted heading into this camp, of course, but has remained a priority as they get set for this third game. Despite their 2 decent results, they’ve scored just 2 goals, and while that’s been a theme of this tournament, with there being just 5 goals across the 4 games played so far, Canada will want some more from themselves in that department. 

But it’s not as if they’ve been totally quiet in the attack, either. They’ve struggled to create concrete chances, yes, only sitting with 9 shots through 2 games, but they’ve also had several occasions where they probably could’ve done better with the opportunities presented to them. 

For example, in this Germany game, despite generating just 3 shots, they had several good looks on the counter-attack, but just often missed that final shot or pass. 

And that’s something that isn’t lost on Canada. They know that they should be doing better with the opportunities that they have, and that in most games, those missed opportunities will come back to hurt them.

“We’ve got bags of pace, and we’re trying to hurt teams in transition more,” Priestman noted on Tuesday. 

She added: “We have to be ruthless, you don’t get a lot of chances against tier one teams.”

Because of that, look for Canada to use that part of their game more. 

With how good that they’ve been defensively this tournament, led by the dominance of Vanessa Gilles and Kadeisha Buchanan at the back, it’s not as if they need a bucketload of goals to win games, so if they believe that this avenue can be the best way to score goals, you’d back them. 

And when looking at the pace that they’ve got in the attack, as well as the transitional ability of their midfielders such as Quinn, Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso, it certainly fits their profile, especially in the bigger games. 

So although you’d like to see Canada hold more possession in games, it might not be something we see too much of going forward, at least against most top opponents. 

But if they can find a way to become ruthless on the counter-attack, and keep up the level at which they’ve been defending, that’s the sort of thing you can live with. As long as Canada finds an identity, that’s the main part, and it looks like based on Priestman’s comments, they’re starting to do just that now. 

Canada celebrates their winning goal vs Germany Sunday (Canada Soccer/Daniela Porcelli)

Unique challenge awaits in Spain:

And speaking of that identity, there’s no doubt that Canada will get its best chance to test that out in this third game against Spain. 

One of the brightest risers in world soccer over the past few years, mainly off the back of some incredible development in their domestic league, Spain has become a team to watch as of late. 

Not only are they pretty dominant in games, finding a way to do damage against all sorts of opponents, but they play fun soccer, too, bringing back the tiki-taka soccer that the men’s team employed with much success in the early 2010s. 

Because of that, they’ve emerged as a strong contender for the Euros this summer, as well as the World Cup next year, looking as dangerous as anyone out there right now.

So don’t be fooled by the results in their first two games of this tournament, which saw them pick up a pair of draws against Germany and England, where their games finished 1-1 and 0-0, respectively. 

In those two games, they held a lot of the ball, keeping 61% of possession against Germany and 56% of possession against England, but just didn’t make the most of it, generating just 7 shots on target from 17 shots. 

But when watching either of those games, you could see the threat that they brought to the table, as they always seemed the likelier team to score. 

Yet, if you’re Canada, you feel like they’ll relish that challenge. Considering that they’re embracing being a team that can defend with the best, they’ll be up for the opportunity to defend Spain’s many offensive threats, while also using this as a chance to show off that improving transition game that they spoke of. 

And seeing that they’ll likely be without the ball for much of this game, this is a perfect opportunity for them to be more ruthless, as Priestman said, especially considering that if they won’t, it’ll just increase the pressure that they’ll face off the ball. 

So even though this game might be a tough one for Les Rouges, one where they’ll have to fight tooth and nail for every bit of possession that they get, this will be a good learning lesson for them. 

After playing England and Germany, this Spain team provides a whole different threat, so while it won’t be fun to play against them, it’ll give them a chance to test themselves in a new environment. 

That was the goal of this tournament heading into it, and we’ll certainly see that on display here, no matter the result. 

Plus, when you add in the fact that Canada can actually emerge from this game with some silverware, that will only add a competitive element to it, overall making it a fun game to watch. 

As they get set for the tests that await them further down the road, this is about as good of an ‘exhibition’ test as you might get before then, so for Canada’s sake, you now just want to see them make the most of this opportunity here. 

“Yeah I think they’re a team that’s brilliant on the ball, they ask a lot of questions of teams defensively, they starve you of the ball,” Priestman said of Spain. “But I do also think there is an opportunity to hurt Spain as well. We’ve seen snippets of that in this tournament.”

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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