Well that was a game that's probably depressingly familiar in quite a few ways for Canadian football fans. The one big problem for any national team, men or women, that's without Christine Sinclair (and for the last year or so even the one with Christine Sinclair) has been an inability to score. Tonight Canada's u20 team did the vast majority of things right but once again, that most important thing just failed to happen and so Canada sit at the bottom of the group after the first game, needing to find a way to make things happen soon.
The most curious lineup decision was leaving Nichelle Prince on the bench to start, she didn't come into the game until the hour mark, and before that substitution there was precious little happening up front. Valerie Sanderson, Janine Beckie, and Ashley Lawrence didn't look dangerous, with regular poor touches letting them down, or needing just a little too much time which allowed the Ghana defence to keep them under wraps, the passes just not quite sharp enough. Emma Fletcher seemed to have similar problems when she started on the right wing, but looked much more threatening from out on the left, coming closest to a goal with a run cutting in from the wing and a near post shot that bounced off the woodwork.
Behind them it wasn't all bad as Canada generally controlled the game and kept possession well, Jessie Fleming and Kylie Davis linking well in midfield, and Surra Yekka often a threat down the right wing. In defence Kadeisha Buchanan was always ready with a block or a tackle when it was needed, goalie Kailen Sheridan was remarkably composed when it came to clearances both long and short and Ghana didn't really look threatening at all. Except for that one time when they did, a hard cross/shot came in from the left, Sheridan couldn't hold on to it, instead merely slowing it down and leaving it right in the path of Sherifatu Sumaila who knocked the rebound home.
The second half saw Canada controlling, the Ghanaian's happy to sit back, absorb pressure and disrupt proceedings with time wasting when they could. Fletcher, until then Canada's liveliest attacker was subbed off after 52 minutes, Prince came on after 60 minutes and immediately started causing problems, and there was a multitude of half chances. Prince got the cleanest shot off forcing a good save, but aside from that, there was very little to worry the goalie, soft shots, or horrible miscues from good positions were the most common end result of Canada's attacks. As for corners, Canada got quite a few throughout the game, almost all of them ended up way too close to goalie Victoria Agyei who claimed them all comfortably enough.
In the end Canada weren't good enough. Competent but generally unthreatening, a defeat is maybe a bit harsh, but I was never ever confident in their ability to score twice to come back and get the win.
Now Canada will need to get a win in their next game against Finland, and from what I saw of their game (the 2nd half) that's totally do-able. 2-1 behind after half time Finland looked even less likely than Canada did to come from behind against North Korea, with the Korean's defending comfortably and having most of the chances created in the half.
Other thoughts from the game. Sticking with the old familiar things first and that's the crowd. There was a decent amount of Canadian fans there, it was announced at 14,834 and given there are probably people who went home after the first game that are included in that figure, I could believe it, and that's a respectable number. There was clearly a lot of tickets that had been sold to local soccer clubs and there were a lot of younger fans there, good to see. Where it all fell down a bit was when it came to how it all sounded. There was also a good chunk of Ghana fans and they were loud. Very loud, especially those who joined together in section 111, much louder than the small group of Voyageurs who valiantly tried and failed to drown them out. I can respect the fans that came out, especially those that sang the Canadian anthem with as much gusto as the Ghanaian one, but it's definitely a bit dispiriting to hear a visiting team once again getting great support in Canada's stadium, and how come they managed to organise themselves to be in section 11 right next to the Voyageurs? There were apparently issues with the CSA not really helping the Voyageurs efforts to create a Canadian supporters section in the south stands, hopefully the sort of thing that can be figured out before next year. Anyway, there were very few Finns/Koreans at the early game in any kind of loud organised numbers so the same issue won't happen to make the problem glaringly obvious in the next game.
Moving on now to the unfamiliar, and I can only say the National Soccer Stadium is a massively more dignified and calm place than BMO Field. No king club, no sponsors with dumb games or displays to catch your attention, no sideline seats jammed in right up against the side of the pitch, no stupid contests and giveaways screeching their way non stop through half time, it was lovely. I'll miss it when TFC get their grubby hands on it again and pimp it out to every sponsor out there with a dumb idea.
Also, the opening ceremony. It was short and delightfully bad. There were mounties, a girl up in the cn tower, the burlington teen tour band, it was all a bit dull, and then a truly awful and cheesy 'welcome to canada' song to finish it off. If it's out there online, watch it. Seriously, you won't be disappointed.
Canada's result of course did get the tournament off to a bit of a disappointing start in Toronto, hopefully it gets better from here. I came into the game not really knowing exactly where Canada would stand in comparison to other teams, but if you caught the Germany vs USA game that happened last night in Edmonton, you'll have a full understanding of just how far away Canada re from being a real contender here.