When Canada takes to the field on Friday night they will know that anything less than the full three points could bring their hopes of a deep run at the 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup to a screeching halt. Having dropped their first game against Ghana by a 1-0 scoreline they will need the full three points against Finland to keep up with Ghana and North Korea at the top of the group.
The first game of the night in Toronto will see Ghana taking on Korea DPR for top spot in the group. If either team can claim the full three points in that match they will all but book their ticket to the next round leaving the loser to compete for the second spot. A draw in that game could potentially leave three or four teams in the mix for both of the top two places heading in to the final game.
While a winner between North Korea and Ghana would move very close to the quarterfinals, any loser between Canada and Finland might as well start packing their bags. Even a draw would put the hopes of both teams on life support with just a single point from two games.
Finland lost their opening game against Korea DPR by a 2-1 scoreline but that was a score that flattered them as their opponents really took it easy in the second half sitting back in a defensive shell and holding on for the full three points. The Finns looked vulnerable at the back when the North Koreans did press forward and were often left exposed in the first half. They could have easily conceded several more goals with a bit better finishing by the North Koreans as the chances were certainly there.
The Finns got their goal from Sini Laaksonen who hit an excellent strike from over 20 yards out. It came at a key time for them as only a minute earlier they had gone down 2-0 and the game was in danger of getting away from them. Outside of the Laaksonen goal the biggest threat for Finland was Juliette Kemppi who looked lively in the attack in just over 70 minutes of playing time. The big issue for her was that she was often isolated and had to deal with two or three defenders at a time leaving her with little time or space to make an impact.
If Canada can deal with Kemppi they should be in good shape in terms of keeping Finland off the score board. That may be the easier task with Finland though as they produced a strong defensive record through qualifying out of UEFA. They scored 19 and conceded 1 in the first round of qualifying, scored 8 and conceded 1 in the second round, and scored 3 and conceded 2 in the final group stage before giving up 4 against England in the quarterfinals having already qualified for the World Cup.
Finland may not have looked strong defensively against North Korea but they are certainly still capable of playing as a very organized unit and making it tough for opponents to break them down. If they do that against Canada it will be no small task for the Canadians to come away with the full three points.
For Canada the key to the game may just be finding some added quality in the final third. They struggled to create quality chances against Ghana and when they did get even a half chance they squandered it without really working the keeper. A repeat of that could spell disaster for the Canadians.
The question will be just who does Andrew Olivieri start with on the attacking side of play. His decisions to leave Nichelle Prince on the bench to start the game against Ghana and to bring off Emma Fletcher midway through the second half certainly came under question and he will need to improve his lineup choices this time.
Prince may be Canada's best option to provide that added quality in front of goal. When she did get in the game against Ghana she was lively and caused the defenders plenty of problems even if she did not get a goal to show for it.
The good news for Canada is that they should have a slightly larger crowd behind them on Friday night and while there may be a small group of Finnish fans in the stand at BMO Field (Even though we aren't supposed to call it that) as there was for their game on Tuesday, they certainly won't have the organized support or noise levels we saw from the Ghanian fans. Perhaps there might even be added support if the Ghana fans stick around for the 2nd game to support Canada. Hopefully that crowd can help push them forward and the team can return the favour by giving the fans something to cheer about.
The other games on Friday come from Group B and feature Germany looking to cement their hold on top spot when they take on China and the United States trying to pick up their first points of the tournament when they take on Brazil who are coming off a draw in their opening game against the Chinese.
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