Tournament soccer is all about building. Each game means overcoming new obstacles against new opponents that perhaps a team hasn’t played against for years, or ever. In a short competition like this all about momentum, incremental improvement each match is critical.
After a narrow 1-0 win over Cameroon, Canada showed that crucial progression in their second match of the tournament against New Zealand. A 2-0 win this afternoon was an improvement both defensively and, crucially, going forward as well.
It also means an automatic spot in the knockout stages. Canada’s final group match against the European Champions from the Netherlands will determine whether they reach that stage in first or second.
Early on it was a tactical change that played a big role in Canada’s dominance. Manager Kenneth Heiner-Moeller elected to go to three at the back with 18-year-old Jayde Riviere coming in at fullback and Sophie Schmidt dropping back into the backline.
The move crucially allowed Ashley Lawrence to push further up the pitch, while also enabling Janine Beckie and RIviere to do the same out wide. Having more creative players in the attacking half made an instant impact in the way the team was able to create chances against a very negative New Zealand side.
Central to this was Nichelle Prince, who after a solid match against Cameroon was the key for Canada today. On a team with a lot of solid passers and positional players, Prince’s speed and ability to beat defenders is key. She set up the first goal, and was there to tap home the rebound on the second.
This was especially clear in the second half when Prince was able to find plenty of gaps in a tired New Zealand team and exploit them. Having so many quality distributors in the defensive half as well between Schmidt and Shelina Zadorsky only helped Canada to build those attacks.
After managing just 1.3 expected goals in their opening match of the tournament, Canada were perhaps unlucky to not score more after putting up 3.6 against New Zealand. In fact, if there were any major drawback to the match for Canada it was that Christine Sinclair twice found the woodwork.
This was the first time since 2007 that Canada has scored twice in a Women’s World Cup match.
xG map for Canada - New Zealand— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 15, 2019
once again, New Zealand's negative approach yields a weird amount of praise but neither any result nor any real threat of getting one. (Canada played really well in the second half, too.) pic.twitter.com/W52Rtxoau4
On the defensive side of the ball, Canada has played against two teams who have been mostly content to just sit back and absorb pressure. With that being said, they have still done very well to thwart almost all attacking forays.
Canada allowed just 0.2 expected goals against New Zealand, after just 0.4 against Cameroon. With nine clean sheets in their past 10 games, and only one goal conceded, they are certifiably one of the best defensive teams in the world.
That statement will be tested in short order against a Dutch attack that boasts some lethal weapons in the final group stage match. However, Canada looked more than up for that challenge with their performance today.
The team continues to build, and even if the performances are not quite as dominant as some would like, there has been clear progress. Now the team just has to keep adding to the framework.