It's becoming a familiar site for Canada's women's soccer team: finish first in their Cyprus Cup group, and make it to the championship final. In five previous finals, Canada has not failed to qualify for it. They've extended that streak in 2013 thanks to largely solid if unspectacular efforts against Switzerland, Finland and the Netherlands -- but to win their fourth Cyprus crown, they're going to have to beat a team that's bested them in the final before, and one they've met recently, too. Well, most of them anyway)
It was a victory over Team GB (which mostly comprised of English players, including Ellen White and Eniola Aluko) that secured Canada a spot in the final four at the Olympics. These teams are set to clash again later this summer in England as the hosts will be tuning up for their appearance at the 2013 Women's Euro tournament, but for now -- Cyprus Cup glory is on the line, and the Canadians will likely want to assert some dominance, while the English will want some Olympic revenge.
The English squad consists of a number of players in the Olympic squad, like Anita Asante in the midfield, and the aforementioned White and Aluko, along with Kelly Smith in front. They're joined by a number of young guns like Toni Duggan, Jordan Nobbs, and Steph Houghton. The English are loaded offensively, and their results show it: they qualified for the final with a 2-1 record in Group A, beating Italy 4-2 and New Zealand 3-1 but settling for a draw with the auld enemy Scotland in a 4-4 draw; the pressure, then, will be on the likes of Rhian Wilkinson, Lauren Sesselmann and Emily Zurrer to contain this potent attack.
The Canadian team is also largely unchanged from the Olympics, the most notable difference being young Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence in the defense, and striker Adriana Leon, whom we had seen snippets of during Canada's time at the Yongchuan Cup in China a few months before.
Canada's offense, which boasts the recently returned-from-suspension Christine Sinclair, hasn't been as proficient in putting the ball into the net as the English have, but has been there when it counted. Without Sinclair, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt (celebrating her 100th cap with the captain's armband) opened the Canadian account with a pair of goals in an easy shutout win over Switzerland.
The talismanic captain returned for the second match against the Finns, but the Canadians ran into trouble early, conceding a goal in the sixth minute off a horrendous giveaway that left Karina LeBlanc with little chance to save. Jonelle Filigno and Sinclair would right the ship before the half was up, but the Finns smelled an opportunity for an upset, and pressed hard for the equalizer until the very end -- they came close twice, Sesselmann clearing an attempt off the line, and another hit the post. But it wasn't to be, and Canada clung on to book a trip to the final.
The Dutch would prove to be the sternest test yet, and proved to be the hardest to crack for the Canadians. Perhaps they were already feeling giddy about securing their finals berth early, but trouble came early as Moscato would bring down the Dutch attacker in the box, and was called for a penalty. Erin McLeod would guess correctly and save the spot kick, which allowed Christine Sinclair to score her 145th career goal. The Dutch would press hard, and by all accounts a TFC-like cling-to-dear-life final few minutes was in store for the Canadians. They would get a chance deep into stoppage, but McLeod's save would kill off the chance.
So it's safe to say that the team is still playing quite well, and will likely have to continue the strong defensive mindset against a high-powered England attack. The Canadian defense, as mentioned before, have only conceded the single goal in the tournament off a poor turnover, but if given the chances, the likes of Aluko or even Houghton (who scored three goals at the Olympics), will not hesitate to pounce. On the other half of the field, it would be foolhardy to bet against Christine Sinclair adding another goal to her 145, but the English will likely have considered that possibility (given the fact the Dutch were beaten on a 25-yard mid-range strike from the Canadian captain, a Sinclair speciality). In this case, the likes of Schmidt, Filigno, Kyle and Leon will have to step up.
The game will begin at 12pm ET (6pm in Cyprus, 10am MT), and for those of you on Twitter, the CSA's official stream will be your only way to follow the match, with highlights available later on the association's YouTube account. We here at WTR will have a full report post-game.