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Preview: Canada heads into showdown with Chile looking to bounce back from opening day draw

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After a disppointing finish their Group E opener, Canada looks to get back into the win column against a Chile side with plenty to prove

Japan v Canada: Women’s Football - Olympics: Day -2

After kicking off their Olympic run with a positive result in disappointing fashion with their 1-1 draw with hosts Japan, the Canadian national team will be looking to bounce back and claim all three points in Saturday’s match against Chile.

After a strong start to the match against Japan, with Christine Sinclair scoring her 187th goal on her 300th appearance in the sixth minute, Canada were unable to capitalize on their positive possession and attack and saw their recent struggles in front of goal continue. The Canadian players seemed reluctant to pull the trigger when presented with the opportunity, registering only the one shot on goal, something that Bev Priestman’s side is going to have to address heading into their Group E test.

Priestman acknowledged the challenges this Chilean team presents, a side that Canada have only faced once before at international “A” level, a 1-0 Chilean victory at the Torneio Internacional tournament in 2013, but remains confident that her side can rise to the occasion against the on-the-rise South American side.

“Chile will not be an easy team to beat,” said Priestman in a press release. “They are a resilient team, they are aggressive, they like to player-mark, and that is not a style Canada is used to play with. We will need to be clinical and have the right mindset, but I do believe we can get the three points.”

The head coach’s call to be clinical won’t be an easy undertaking against the 2018 Copa America runners-up, as they are backstopped by one of the best goalkeepers in the game, Christiane Endler. Endler, 30, who recently made the switch to join French giants Olympique Lyonnais from rivals Paris St. Germain, has twice been a finalist for Best Women’s Goalkeeper at the Best FIFA Football Awards after her dominant play with PSG.

The Chilean Women’s team are making their Olympic debut in these games after years of significant growth and success after falling off of the FIFA Women’s World Rankings five years ago because of inactivity in their program. Now ranked 37th in the world, the Chilaens have the experience of their 2018 Copa America run and their appearance at the 2019 World Cup to draw from after years of having only the 2008 U-20 Women’s World Cup as major tournament experience.

The Chilean women’s program, and women’s football in the country in general, has undergone a complete overhaul in recent years. With professional contracts becoming the norm in their domestic league and the standard of training and playing environments vastly improving, Chile have been able to support and develop their own players at home and the national team is seeing the benefits, moving from one domestic based player fielded in their decisive 2019 World Cup qualifier against Argentina, to 12 on the current Olympics squad.

Chile are definitely a side on the rise, but they weren’t able to translate that positive trajectory into a result on the pitch in their opener on Wednesday. Head Coach Jose Letelier saw his side fall 2-0 to Great Britain on the back of two well taken goals from Manchester City striker Ellen White on either side of the break. Like Canada, the Chileans will be looking to get more out of their attack in this second match, with the front three of Maria Jose Urrutia, Daniela Zamora and Yanara Aedo likely to lead the line for the South Americans against Canada’s experienced and resolute backline.

For Canada, there is good news coming into this match as it looks like the injury that goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé picked up against Japan isn’t as serious as first thought. Labbé, 34, suffered a rib-joint injury in a challenge with Japanese forward Mina Tanaka, but was able to step up to save the resulting penalty before she was forced to exit the match. The Canadian ‘keeper is still considered “questionable” for the match against Chile, but has stated that she remains “optimistic” about being available to start in the match.

If Labbé is unable to make the start, or if Priestman opts to rest her for the final group match against Great Britain, Kailen Sheridan of NJ/NY Gotham FC is a more than capable replacement to step in for the Canadians. Sheridan, 26, won the National Women’s Soccer League’s Golden Glove award at the 2020 Challenge Cup and was nominated for Top Player of the 2021 season at the ESPYs. Despite giving up the equalizing goal against Japan, Sheridan has proven that she is a standout goalkeeper in the game and will be looking to take any opportunity ahead of her to stake her claim to be Canada’s no.1 after the disappointment of having her SheBelives Tournament starting gig ended early through injury.

Canada will be looking to regroup and get back to their game against Chile, with Bev Priestman believing that having more time to acclimate themselves with their environment and the occasion will do them well.

“To me it looked like the opening game got the better of them at times,” Priestman said of her team. “We just have to keep believing and really get that three points out of the next game.”

In a tournament like this, the adjustments to get results have to come quickly and Canada will have to come out against the Chileans showing more confidence and willingness in their attack to ensure a result. 3 points in this match is crucial for the Canadians in their hopes to finish group play in a top spot and, with all respect to Chile, is a match they should win to set themselves up for their final group match against Great Britain.

In other news, Canadian midfielder Quinn spoke in a recent post on their Instagram about being the first openly trans Olympian to compete in the games. While they mentioned that they felt pride at this distinction, they emphasized the continued need for change in sport.

“Mostly, I feel aware of the realities. Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their olympic dreams. The fight isn’t close to over… and I’ll celebrate when we’re all here.”

This is something that everyone in the game, players, coaches, management, and fans, have to continue to address to ensure that trans athletes do not continue to face outdated, arbitrary, and bigoted obsticales in their pursuit of their goals both inside and outside of competition. While we should absolutely celebrate Quinn for this milestone and for their leadership, we must also remember what they said in their Instagram post: the fight isn’t over until everyone is there.

So, let’s all keep fighting.

Canada’s match against Chile kicks off Saturday morning at 3:30am ET at the Sapporo Dome. The match will be broadcast live on CBC.ca and fans can also find extended coverage across Canada Soccer’s digital channels on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube featuring the hashtag #CANWNT.