Canada are quickly becoming this year’s Cardiac Kids, not making anything comfortable or relaxing on their fans, or themselves. The latest edition was needing all five rounds of penalties after ending 120 minutes of play goalless against Brazil. The quarterfinal matchup was a rematch of the 2016 bronze medal game, and the victor was the same, meaning that for a third straight Olympics, the Canadians will play for a medal.
Confidence is Key
Bev Priestman’s side came out looking as confident as we’ve seen them in these Games, opening the battle with a comfortable amount of possession punctuated by perfect passing. The sequences never amounted to any real threats on the Brazilian keeper, but it set the tone for the game, something the Canadians needed to do. Since beating Brazil for the bronze in 2016, Canada has yet to find a win against the South Americans in four attempts. The results have certainly improved since Marta and Co beat the Red and White 4-0, it’s hard to imagine that the streak was not weighing heavy on the Canadian minds at the beginning of the elimination round.
Having come to Tokyo with a clear goal of changing the colour of the medal, it was imperative that Priestman and her group imposed themselves on the Brazilians, who had been in exquisite scoring form in the tournament. By coming out and controlling the play from the get-go, Canada seemed to get into Brazil’s head and be the team to have the swagger as of the opening whistle.
We saw the Canadian confidence show up in other facets than just their ball control: it was in their players. Olympic debutant Vanessa Gilles earned her second straight start, in her eighth cap, after getting the call against Great Britain over Shelina Zadorsky and impressing, but Gilles seemed to struggle early on. A nerve-wracking giveaway at the top of her own box in the 40th minute created the best chance of the half for Brazil. Perhaps previous Canadian bench bosses would have decided they had seen enough of the youngster by halftime, Priestman stuck to her guns and brought her back on for the second half. The rookie head coach’s confidence payed dividends when Gilles had the best chance of the game around the hour mark, and then went on to score the winning penalty marker in the shootout.
Labbé on Lock
Before a ball was kicked off in Tokyo there was talk about whether or not Steph Labbé should even be the starter anymore. She came off injured (after saving a penalty she conceded) in the opener against Japan and was replaced for the remainder and for game two against Chile by her heir apparent Kailen Sheridan, it never seemed in doubt that the net would be hers when she was healthy again. She was indeed back against Great Britain and really played a flawless game, save for being beat by a deflection in the last 10 minutes that caused the Canadians to drop two points.
If the doubters weren’t silenced after her group stage performances, they’ll be quiet now after the Canadian keeper was flawless against Brazil. In regulation she came up with big save after big save exactly when needed, including bailing her teammates out in a pinch. Her true heroic moment, however, came in the shootout when she stopped the fourth and fifth Brazilian penalties, launching Canada into the semifinals for the third time. What is perhaps most impressive about her performance is how unfazed she looked through it all. She had the game in her gloves and made the save look like practice. She’ll need to stay in this form to boost the Canadians over their most hated rival: Team USA.
Canada will take on the States at 4 am EST on Monday August 2.