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Canadian Women Face Zimbabwe Looking to Book Ticket to Rio 2016 Knockout Round

Many are looking ahead, but Canada can't afford to slip up against the heavy underdogs from Zimbabwe.

Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

With the way Canada played in their opening game at Rio 2016 it was hard not to think ahead. It was the kind of performance that seemed to indicate that maybe, just maybe, the magic of London could be re-ignited. Thoughts were already creeping ahead to the knockout round.

The team itself, however, can't afford to think that way. They have by no means guaranteed themselves a spot in the knockout round yet, and would still like to lock up at least second place in the group, and give themselves an easier quarterfinal opponent. Heck, by some miracle they could even win the group if they beat Germany in their final group game.

But first, they will have to beat Zimbabwe today in what should be a fairly comprehensive victory, but won't be if they are not mentally prepared. As has been displayed many times on the international soccer stage, little countries can make life real difficult for big teams simply by playing sound defensively.

This is Zimbabwe's first Olympic appearance, and they will be looking to turn a few heads before their likely pre-knockout round exit. But they are by no means anywhere close to Canada in talent, as they are currently ranked 93rd in the world.

They did manage to score a goal against the mighty Germans, but also allowed six in the process. They also allowed 13 shots on target, and 34 in total in a match that was completely one sided.

The one way that they could cause Canada problems is by bunkering well, and then catching Canada on the break. The weakest point of Canada's performance against Australia was their backline, which was exposed fairly consistently, just without consequence.

Canada will be without centre back Shelina Zadorsky for the match, who was sent off early in their victory over Australia. However, Rebecca Quinn did a standup job filling in for her, and is expected to get another start against Zimbabwe.

If all goes to plan, Canada will be able to use this match to fine-tune its offence. Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair have already scored in this tournament, but Canada didn't really get much time on the ball against Australia on account of being down a woman. Becoming confident breaking down an opponent is crucial.

It would be especially beneficial for Canada to be firing on all cylinders before their final group game, where they will meet the world number two from Germany. That is going to be the type of team that Canada will need to beat if they want to get to the podium once again.

With that in mind, it will be curious to see how John Herdman deploys his team. Herdman's plan against Australia quickly fell apart when Zhadorsky was sent off, but was somewhat unexpected. He included veterans like Melissa Tancredi and Rhian Wilkinson in the lineup, while not starting national team mainstay Sophie Schmidt.

Whether he goes with a similar starting lineup against Zimbabwe remains to be seen, but it would certainly be good to get Tancredi some goals. Down the stretch, Canada will need as many players in form as possible.

On paper, this is a massive mismatch. The Canadian women usually don't drop significantly to the level of their opponent. But this is the Olympics, and weird things happen to those who get complacent. Canada hasn't reached to knockout stages yet, and they certainly can't take a game off regardless of the opponent.