Failing to defeat Holland in the decisive Group E match last week in Reims was always going to have this consequence, a meeting with either the USA or Sweden in the first knock-out stage.
Both formidable opponents, a win over the Dutch would have resulted in a slightly less taxing head to head with the Japanese, but the Canadian women never recovered after Lineth Beerensteyn showed greater determination than both Kadeisha Buchanan and Jayde Riviere to score Holland’s second and ultimately winning goal.
In Group F’s decisive game Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson, tinkered with his line-up, and with the Round of 16 in mind handed out four World Cup debuts in a starting line-up that provided ample rest time for other key players.
It was little surprise then that the USA won the game 2-0, but perhaps a more telling guide is that the Swedes eliminated the Americans at the Rio Olympics two years ago. Full-strength Sweden, then, are a force to be reckoned with.
Neither of these countries have previously won the title and each had their best showing in 2003, when Sweden were runners-up after defeating Canada 2-1 in the semi-final in Portland. Canada had led 1-0 until the 79th minute.
That remains the only occasion in which the sides have met at a World Cup, and Christine Sinclair will be hoping her team-mates can settle the old score to prolong her illustrious World Cup career in what may well be her last tournament.
“If the result happens to not go our way we’re heading home. But I think we’re trying very hard to just make it feel like any other day, any other game we’re preparing for as best we can.”
Sinclair also says lessons were learned in the Dutch loss.
”We went back and revisited that. (There are) some things we need to improve upon if we want to advance in this tournament.”
On the previous two occasions Canada have progressed from the group stages, they have won their first knock-out match 1-0; v China in 2003, and v Switzerland in 2015.
That Swiss victory represents an only success against a European nation in their last 13 in World Cup play, a particularly dismal record, considering 11 of those games have ended in defeat.
So although history nor head to head record against Sweden that reads 5-13-4 may not be on Canada’s side, the teams are well-matched, solid defensively and a narrow contest is to be expected. It’s also worth noting that in the last ten meetings between the nations, Canada holds a slight 4-3-3 advantage.
If understrength Sweden’s performance against the Americans was not a good measuring-stick, then neither were their other group games against Chile or Thailand. Sweden was not truly tested in either game.
You wonder if Peter Gerhardsson’s gamble not to give some key players a genuine test prior to the knock-out stages might backfire. Win of course and it’s hailed as a stroke of genius, but it’s fair to say that Canada’s players may be more recently battle-hardened going into this one.
The criticism still remains though of Canada that aging Christine Sinclair is too important to the fortunes of the team as a whole, but no-one wearing red will be complaining if Canada’s greatest-ever female soccer star leads her colleagues and the nation on to the quarter-finals, and a meeting with Germany.
Today’s game between Canada and Sweden in Paris, can be viewed on TSN3, TSN4, TSN5, TSN GO at 1500 hrs EST.