Canada qualified as hosts for this summer's games, which is partly amazing, and partly a concealment of the capability of this team. It is amazing that Canada was selected as hosts. It's our third time hosting a major FIFA event in recent years (2007 FIFA u-20 World Cup and 2014 FIFA u-20 Women's World Cup) and could potentially pave the way for a future bid on the FIFA Men's World Cup. Sadly, it also means that our women qualified as hosts, not as the powerhouse that they have been.
Previous 12 Months
Any discussion of our recent performance at the international level is going to focus on two things. Firstly, our performance at the 2015 Cyprus Cup, and secondly, our recent friendly against World Cup favourite France.
In the Cyprus Cup, Canada had an amazing run of form against teams that are competitive. Canada effectively neutralized the Scottish (21st in FIFA rankings) with a score of 2-0. We then beat the South Koreans (18th in FIFA rankings) 1-0, and the Italians (13th in FIFA rankings) 1-0. Three impressive games, each ending in a clean sheet for Canada. Canada would lose a single game, to England (6th in FIFA rankings) 1-0. Canada would end the tournament as runner-up, a respectable finish for a team that placed third in the 2012 Olympics after a miraculous Diana Matheson goal against France.
However, more recently, Canada tried their hands against France (3rd in FIFA rankings), and failed in front of 11,000 fans in Bondoufle, France. The scoreline does not reflect the overall trend in the game, and if not for the impressive work of French striker Eugenie Le Sommer, Canada might have earned a 0-0 draw. Les Rouges showed good possession, defensive awareness and were able to shut down a lot of French attacks in the mid-field, neutralizing Gaëtane Thiney, one of the top players in the world, on several occasions.
The Chosen Ones
The roster for the Women's World Cup was unveiled on April 27th, and includes the following women:
Keepers: Stephanie Labbé, Karina Leblanc, Erin McLoed
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Allysha Chapman, Robyn Gayle, Carmelina Moscato, Marie-Eve Nault, Lauren Sesselmann, Rhian Wilkinson, Emily Zurrer
Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, Selenia Iacchelli, Kaylyn Kyle, Ashley Lawrence, Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott
Forwards: Josée Bélanger, Jonelle Filigno, Adriana Leon, Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi
Since Canada qualified as hosts, we are the first team in the first group. That means we are in group A alongside China (16th in FIFA rankings), New Zealand (17th in FIFA rankings) and the Netherlands (12th in FIFA rankings). Canada, at 8th overall in the FIFA ranks, is the favourite to win the group by playing a free-flowing game that was attempted in France earlier in the year. That being said, each of the teams in Group A are competitive, and can surprise an overconfident opponent. I am expecting Canada to use its best line-up in all group stage matches, and save defensive tactics for heavyweights like the United States, Sweden and France.
I see Canada playing a 4-4-1-1 (or variation thereof) for one simple reason: We need to allow Sinclair to do her thing, but with more consistent service. Relying on the service from midfielders like Diana Matheson to either provide a cross, or score herself, worked in 2012, but it resulted in low scoring numbers in Cyprus. Simply put, that is not going to be enough to take on powerhouses in this tournament. I think Josée Belanger will be the solution to our low numbers, and having her act behind Sinclair as either a decoy runner, providing service from behind, or carrying the ball forward off Matheson or Kyle is an ideal use for the former Comètes de Laval striker.
Thoughts on the team
This team is simply amazing. There are professional players standing next to entrepreneurs, food truck owners and medical doctors. The team is a wide cross section of Canadian soccer culture, and shows how far we have come as a national team.
I think Canada will win the group stage with 9 points. That's W-W-W for the mathematically inclined. We tend to do well against defensive teams, and if we improve our offense we're sure to put a few between the pipes. The arrival of Marie-Eve Nault, who was missing in France, will surely bolster our back line, and her ability to play on the sides of the defense will help us if we run into depth issues.
After the group stage, who knows. This is the World Cup after all. All I know is it's going to be an amazing journey, and its finally right here in our backyard.
Allez les rouges!