When the going gets tough, it is rare that Canada Soccer gets going. There is a reason that Canadian supporters are so concerned about who they draw, or where a particular match will be played. Because if the circumstances aren't in Canada's favour, it is rare that they come through. Especially if that match in question is played in San Pedro Sula.
But after a statement comeback last match, Canada completed a comeback of a different kind with their 1-0 victory over North Korea. After falling in their opening group match, 1-0 to Ghana in a very disheartening performance, it seemed like there was little chance the team would get out of the group stage. But after beating a very good North Korean side, Canada have not only advanced, but are heading to the knockout stage with momentum.
It is fitting that the comeback was completed in the same way it began. It was Janine Beckie who began the comeback against Finns, and given the chance to start against the North Koreans she made the most of her opportunity with the only goal of the match.
Canada's backline ended up being the true catalyst for victory, however, after two questionable performances. It began in net, where Kailen Sheridan had by far her best performance of the tournament. After some poor moments in the opening two matches she was strong and confident in this one.
She also got plenty of help. Nothing more needs to be said about Kadeisha Buchanan, who continued to be her dominant self in this match. But Rebecca Quinn has not gotten nearly enough credit beside her. Both deserve full credit for completely shutting the Korean attack that put 3 past Ghana, including Ri Un Sim, who surprisingly started the match on the bench.
Kylie Davis is another player who deserves credit for her performance in the midfield. She was often at the base of all Canadian attacks, and was similarly important to the backline. In front of her, Valerie Sanderson also had her best performance of the tournament in her home province. Her level of talent hints at her being able to do even more in the knockout rounds.
Andrew Olivieri also deserves plenty of credit for what he has been able to do with this team so far this tournament. His substitutions once again came through for him in a huge way in this one, Amandine Pierre-Leduc was crucial in the buildup to the goal. She would be a favourite to start going forward, but her conditioning did not look particularly good.
It was also no fluke that Canada was the only team to not be scored on by the Koreans, as Canada gave up very little in defence and seemed to have them figured out tactically. This was also evident going forward; when they were able to execute, the long balls over the top caused big problems for the Korean backline.
Things got tense in the final minutes as it became apparent a 2-1 win by Ghana over Finland would mean Canada needed a victory in order to advance. But Korea also did not seem all that desperate to get a result in the match, knowing that they had already secured the top spot in the group.
With the win, Canada will face Germany in the quarterfinals. Of all the tests they have been able to overcome so far, this will be by far the biggest. The Germans might be the most impressive team in this tournament. They will certainly prey on any of the defensive deficiencies that Canada showed in the first match, as evidenced by scoring 12 goals in probably the tournaments toughest group. They also won't be very forgiving if chances are not taken.
But there is a sense with this team that something special could happen. They have already overcome odds, and just reaching the knockout stages is seen as an accomplishment. With the pressure off and an opponent who expects to win they might just be able to continue their string of upsets.
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