Canada’s Olympic group play came to a somewhat unsatisfying end with a 1-1 draw with Great Britain on Tuesday morning. The game played out with a heavily rotated Canadian side that saw Captain Canada, Christine Sinclair, watching from the stands. Sinclair was joined by veterans Desiree Scott and Alysha Chapman in the alternates role, while Sophie Schmidt drew into the starting lineup, with Jordyn Huitema and Gabrielle Carle found spots on the substitute bench.
Top spot in the group was at stake in this one, with Canada needing a win to overtake Great Britain in the standings and a draw would secure the group for the British. Unfortunately for Canada, they relived the same story as the tournament opener against Japan; they were in prime position to win it only to concede the equalizer in the last 10 minutes.
First 45: New Faces, Similar Results
Canada’s new look lineup had a rather familiar first half, with not much in the way of offensive production. While that may all be chalked up to missing Sinclair, it may not be as simple as that. From watching their play, the players whose absences appeared to be most sorely missed were midfielders Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince, who were left on the bench for the first 45. Fleming’s calmness in the midfield as well as her toughness in challenges was noticeably absent against a GB team not scared to throw their weight around. As for Prince, it was painfully obvious that she has become the team’s creative force, and not having her there to play a ball other than the predictable one made for a rather lacklustre first half.
While the offensive side of the first half was more of the same, we were treated to a newer look backline, with Vanessa Gilles slotting in for Shelina Zadorsky. The combination of the tough-as-nails Olympic debutant alongside world-class centre back Kadeisha Buchanan made for a truly bruising base to the Canadian lineup. Buchanan wore the captain’s armband in Sinclair’s absence and continued her fine form for the national squad, being the ever-reliable safety valve who, if you ask her to, can do it all. Gilles didn’t look out of place in the slightest and certainly proved to Priestman that she deserves some minutes come the elimination games, especially with the shakiness Zadorsky has shown of late.
Second 45: Goals, Gods, and Going Forward
While the first half was a conservative one, the second half saw an awakening of sorts for the Canadian side; as if they clued in to the fact that they would need to win to top the group. Priestman made a pair of subs at the break, bringing on Huitema for Deanne Rose and Fleming for Janine Beckie. The subs were like-for-like but seemed to have an immediate impact, with Fleming reclaiming command of the midfield and allowing Canada to find their footing a little more comfortably.
It was a fullback, however, who got the offence flowing just 10 minutes into the second half. Ashley Lawrence picked the ball up at midfield and charged through Great Britain’s half and deep into their box, clearly a woman on a mission. That mission? Setting up Adriana Leon for the opening goal and Leon’s 20th marker for the country. Lawrence’s cross initially escaped the pack of both Canadian attackers and British defenders. Seeing the play develop, Leon pulled away from the group, delayed her run, and was clinical with the ball at her foot and nobody around her. Many felt Leon was a controversial pick, at least not one that people wanted to see on the initial 18-player roster.
It appeared as though the soccer gods were on Canada’s side when Caroline Weir fired a shot past the Canadian backline and the outstretched arm of Steph Labbé, but couldn’t beat the deadly combination of crossbar and post. Weir wouldn’t finish the game unsatisfied though, as she got credit for the tying goal.
After Great Britain subbed on some of their big guns (cough cough Ellen White) they were able to make the tired legs of the Canadians slightly more uneasy. Canada had made subs of their own but they weren’t impact players of the ilk of the Brits. It was Weir who decided to try her luck from distance, a shot that Labbé tracked well until it took a devastating deflection off of Prince and wound up in the opposite corner than the one that the Canadian keeper was tracking towards.
Just like against Japan, the win was erased with less than 10 minutes to go. The result sets up a duel with familiar foes Brazil for a right at the semis. Canada finds themselves on the same side of the bracket as the United States, who will square off against the Netherlands in their quarterfinal.
Catch the Canadian women’s quarterfinal action live on CBC at 4am EST on Friday, July 30.