Gotta win the ball, gotta win the ball... CREDIT: Francis Bompard/Getty Images
Well, here we are...the last game of the Olympic women's football group stages. Sweden is the enemy-du-jour, and a win by either side will guarantee second place in Group F and a spot in the knockout rounds for them. The loser will have to do some scoreboard watching, but will still likely be making a trip to the knockout rounds. So...in a way, everyone's a winner this game.
But that doesn't mean that the Canadians can take it easily though; the two teams have gone head-to-head twice so far this year, with one win to both sides: but nothing will be bigger than this -- a clear berth into the knockout rounds, with a potentially more favourable opponent than the loser. It will all depend on other results later Tuesday morning (as determined by our still patent-pending Scenario Generator and Chip Butty Maker 7000™), but still...who wants to face the USA so soon?
It will be one match where a lot of questions will need to be answered though: after two games, the Canadians have shown very little in the ways of believing that they will follow in the paths of Jennifer Abel and Emilie Heymans: the play has been sloppy, passes are poor, and there's been very little by way of consistent possession. In short, it's been a disaster...but there's a time for a turnaround, and it is now.
Let's start with the bad news: it was announced yesterday that Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle are done for the Olympics. Marie-Eve Nault and Melanie Booth have been activated from the standby roster to replace them, but with Candace Chapman currently listed as day-to-day with her knee injury, it will likely fall to Lauren Sesselman to fill in the gap in the back line. Sesselman has been a standout so far this tournament, with her goal line defensive heroics saving us from further blushes against the Japanese -- but as she stated to media today, this is the first time she will be occupying this spot.
The midfield has been a bit shaky at times, but will have to show up to play today: Rhian Wilkinson's run-by of Yukari Kinga leading to a Melissa Tancredi goal still stands as perhaps one of the best runs put together by a Canadian so far in the tournament; and the Canadians will need to do the same again: the Swedes' midfield is extremely strong, and as their captain Nilla Fischer told the Globe and Mail today, they will be looking to do what Wilkinson did. The key, therefore, is to be able to do it more times and more successfully than the Swedes.
Goal scoring wise, that's not a concern for us -- it's getting the deliveries to those goal scorers that is the biggest question of them all: and that is where passing will be a huge concern: Canada must win the ball battles, and be able to get the balls back if they lose it. Diana Matheson, who has shown some bright spots so far in playmaking this tournament, will be the key in this case. Once the balls are in good spots, let's just say we can be comfortable in believing that Christine Sinclair will do the rest.
As some may put it -- Tuesday will be Big Red's statement game. But when everyone's potentially a winner...will it be? For the sake of Canada's medal hopes (and for the nerves of Canada's Olympic chef de mission Mark Tewksbury), we can only hope the answer is yes.