After finishing group play in second position to advance to the knockout rounds, Canada secured themselves a date with familiar foe Brazil with a semi-final spot on the line. After coming away with two draws and two losses in their most recent matches with Brazil, Canada will be looking to reignite a bit of their 2016 Olympic magic that saw them defeat the Rio hosts 2-1 to claim the bronze medal.
With one eye surely on their potential quarterfinal matchup, Bev Priestman chose to rotate her Canada squad in their final group match against Great Britain, unexpectedly making seven changes to the side that defeated Chile. Priestman opted to manage some regular starters’ minutes by dropping them to the bench and chose to rest veterans Desiree Scott and Christine Sinclair by leaving them out of the matchday 18 entirely. With their Olympic lives on the line, expect Priestman to revert to a more familiar, and rested, starting XI against the Brazillians.
Against the British, Canada was undone by a late equalizer for the second time in this tournament, after giving up an 84’ minute equalizer against Japan in their opening match, a concerning and uncharacteristic change of tides for a side who came into the tournament on the back of four straight clean sheets.
“It’s been the story,” said Priestman about the squad’s late-match struggles. “For sure you can see the players are disappointed that they gave that up.”
Their opponents on Friday will be certainly looking to ask questions of this newly minted issue, with As Canarinhas scoring for fun so far in their Olympic campaign, registering nine goals through their three games. Despite this, confidence remains high in the Canada camp heading into their quarter-final match.
“We’ve gone undefeated and you can’t scoff at that in an Olympics,” said Priestman after the 1-1 draw with Great Britain. “We’ve grown through the group stage. We’re facing probably a very familiar opponent in Brazil. We rested some legs and we’re ready to go.”
Brazil won’t make things easy, however, with Pia Sundhage’s side only missing out on top spot in their group on goal difference. With seven points through three games, Brazil looked confident in attack, downing China 5-0 before going shot-for-shot with the high powered Dutch in a 3-3 draw. They looked a touch frustrated against Zambia, only registering a 1-0 victory against the side the Dutch put 10 past. However, with Martha and Debinha both fit and firing and with Beatriz and Andressa in support, this is a team that won’t be left wanting for offense very often.
After adding to her world record international goal scoring tally against Japan with her 187th goal, Christine Sinclair will be a welcome reintroduction into the squad with Canada looking to struggle for consistent, decisive offensive production when she is not involved. Janine Beckie and Adriana Leon have done well to get Canada on the scoresheet in this tournament, but the squad seems to operate on a higher frequency when Sinclair is orchestrating from her position at the front.
On top of the questions facing the team at both ends of the pitch, Priestman has seemingly not yet been able to find her preferred midfield trio. Each of Canada’s three matches has seen a different midfield three start, with Quinn, Jessie Fleming and Desiree Scott lining up against Japan, Julia Grosso stepped in for Quinn against Chile, and Janine Beckie, Quinn, and Sophie Schmidt got the nod against the British.
This lack of consistency is creating an apparent lack of chemistry in the middle of the park, but the individual players have done well. Quinn has been as steady as ever, Grosso and Beckie have looked incredibly influential in their central positions, and Fleming has shown flashes of her top-form. Canadian fans will be hoping that Priestman has seen enough in the group stage auditions to move forward with a triumvirate with the mettle to lead the squad to a medal.
Despite Canada looking like they’re struggling to get out of first gear, it is well known what this side can do and it only feels like a matter of time before they get things right. They fared well in a very tough group and this rested group won’t be shying away from the challenge against a side they’ve shown an ability to keep off the scoreboard in the past.
Knockout football is about finding your stride at the right time and Canada will be looking to leave the group-stage behind, recapture their form, and rise to the occasion against a tricky Brazil side that poses the first do-or-die hurdle in their quest to ‘change the colour of the medal”.
Canada continues their drive to the podium Friday, July 30 in Miyagi, Japan at 4 a.m. EST/1 a.m. PST. The match can be seen live on CBC, CBC.ca, and across their streaming platforms.