Canadian soccer fans will plan their day around one main event today, their Women’s National Team’s huge Round of 16 clash with Sweden at Parc des Princes in Paris.
The winners will advance to meet Germany in the quarter-final, as the challenges become tougher. Canada must improve on their rather poor record when facing European nations on the World stage, if they are to prevail. Eleven defeats in their last thirteen such encounters does not make encouraging reading. Only Switzerland have been defeated (2015) and that was on home turf.
The game will be tight and may go all the way to penalties before a decision is reached. It’s unlikely to be free-flowing and expansive, but this meeting could still turn out to be epic.
The day’s first game in the tournament holds plenty of interest too, as rapidly improving Spain take on favourites, USA. When football is talked around the world, Spain is always mentioned, so it’s perhaps surprising that their women’s game has taken so long to develop, but after momentum was finally established in time for a first-ever World Cup qualification four years ago, progress has been swift.
It’s probably not a good idea to suggest they’ll overcome the USA, but expect the Spanish Women to make a good fist of it. Coming into the tournament most pundits suggested Spain could surprise. Defeating the USA would be of shock-like proportions however, and it’s probably a bridge too far for the Spanish.
Three games in AFCON today with action from Groups D and E, which gets underway with all four teams in action. Mauritania is making its first-ever AFCON finals appearance, and despite much advancement in their game, little is expected of a country who first entered AFCON qualifying only as recently as 1980.
Opponents Mali on the other hand, have reached the semi-finals four times in the last nine editions and despite missing out on the likes N’Golo Kante of Chelsea and Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona, have assembled a squad laden with French-born talent. It will be a surprise should they not start the campaign with a victory.
The other two games have a much tighter look about them. Ivory Coast, a traditional power in African football and winners four years ago, are hoping a new batch of world stars is about to emerge following the end of the golden generation of Drogba, Yaya Toure et al. They missed out on qualification for the Russian World Cup and it’s fair to say the last couple of years have been nothing if not transitional.
In South Africa they will meet a side that has come through qualifying unbeaten and with a 2-0 win in Nigeria behind them, but Bafana Bafana despite being crowned continental champions just four years after leaving apartheid behind in 1996, has failed to make much progress, despite hosting the World Cup in 2010. If either side is to claim three points from this one I would lean towards the Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire.
Tunisia will be favourites in their Group E encounter with Angola in Suez. The Palancas Negras failed to qualify for the last two editions of the tournament, unlike the Tunisians who are perennial attendees. Now led by the former French great, Alain Giresse, Tunisia, one-time winners, will hope to continue punching above their weight. Giresse has a wealth of experience in African football, having previously coached Gabon, Mali (twice) and Senegal, and relies on a mainly home-based squad in mounting the North African challenge.
A burden of expectation does not reside with Angola, who could spring a surprise or two with the pressure off.
The Gold Cup continues at Red Bull Arena with the concluding games in Group B, where Costa Rica should confirm themselves as Canada’s quarter-final opponents by defeating Haiti. Les Grenadiers are guaranteed second-spot at worst whatever happens, although Canadian fans would relish the prospect of them shocking The Ticos this evening, and replacing Costa Rica as their next opponent.
Chile and Uruguay meet at Rio’s Maracana to decide the Group C winners, while Japan and Ecuador clash each hoping to secure a best-record, third-placed finish and a meeting with hosts Brazil in Porto Alegre. If either side wins, they will advance. Should the game end level, Paraguay from Group B will advance.
If Chile win or draw, they will face Peru in the last eight and Uruguay would meet Colombia. Should La Celeste claim the three points those quarter-final opponents would be switched.
In what has been a highly entertaining tournament, France and surprise-packet Romania meet in Cesena to determine which nation advances to the semi-finals.
Ironically should the game end level, both sides will advance, Romania as group winners, France as the second-place team with the best record.
There’s added incentive for each, as all four semi-finalists qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Let’s hope the game is not played out to a contrived result.
Hosts Italy must fear the worst and will be keeping a close eye on proceedings. A three goal victory for France, or any margin of victory for Romania, would see The Azzurrini take their place in the last four as best recorded runner-up.
Today’s Games (all EST) -
1030 - Cote D’Ivoire v South Africa - African Cup of Nations - DAZN, BeIN Sports Canada
1130 - USA v Spain - Womens World Cup R16 - TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN GO, RDS, RDS GO
1300 - Tunisia v Angola - African Cup of Nations - DAZN, BeIN Sports Canada
1500 - Sweden v Canada - Womens World Cup R16 - TSN3, TSN4, TSN5, TSN GO, RDS, RDS GO
1500 - Croatia u21 v England u21 - UEFA u21 Championship - UEFA TV, YouTube
1500 - France u21 v Romania u21 - UEFA u21 Championship - UEFA TV, YouTube
1600 - Algeria v Kenya - African Cup of Nations - DAZN, BeIN Sports Canada
1830 - Bermuda v Nicaragua - Gold Cup - TSN.ca, TSN GO, CONCACAF GO
1900 - Chile v Uruguay - Copa America - TSN3, TSN GO
1900 - Ecuador v Japan - Copa America - TSN2, TSN GO
2000 - Martinique v Mexico - Gold Cup - TSN3, TSN.ca, TSN GO, CONCACAF GO