Since the Summer of 2012, when the Canadian Women’s National Team first truly broke into the international spotlight, claiming the bronze medal in London; they have been recognized as a global power in women’s football. Ranked inside the top ten for the longest of times, Canada has come leaps and bounds since those matches in London, culminating in a gold medal performance just two years ago.
Sadly, it’s too often been a case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ especially since the gold. Continued struggles to get equal pay as the men’s team and even bringing the federation to a hearing in parliament with the Heritage Committee, in which there were revelations over the toxic atmosphere at Canada Soccer, nothing has come easy. The federation has also recently revealed that they could be looking into bankruptcy, and the national teams wouldn’t be able to play friendlies in Autumn.
Despite the storms raging, it’s not entirely doom and gloom. Legends of the sport Diana Matheson and Christine Sinclair (entering what will very likely be her final World Cup) are co-founding a professional league that will kick off in 2025, with big corporations chipping in. And in other places around the world, who could forget last Summer’s European Championships in which more fanfare for women’s sport was created than any other tournament? This edition of the World Cup will undoubtedly be the biggest ever. The first with 32 teams and the first in multiple nations means more people than ever will be exposed to women’s football.
You simply must watch this exciting tournament, and when you do turn the TV onto Canada’s matches and still aren’t too familiar with the women’s game, you’ll surely be intrigued by who the opponents are. This is your rundown of the star players from the Canucks’ group stage opponents (Nigeria, Australia, and Ireland) and how they reached this pinnacle of football.
AUSTRALIA [WORLD RANKING: 10th]
Sam Kerr, Chelsea: The worldwide face of women’s football. Not only as a superstar for Chelsea, the best club in England, but as someone who aided Australia/Aotearoa New Zealand’s bid for the World Cup, she’s the poster girl. Kerr will hope that if her legacy will be defined by one shining moment, something this Summer will trump everything in the past. If it all goes to plan, her signature backflip will be performed on the grandest stage, leading Australia to glory.
An uber-successful club career thus far has seemingly simmered down. The 2022-23 season was far from her best, but her recent excellence (back-to-back 20-goal seasons in the WSL) does make a 12-goal season, with only 10.7 expected goals, look shambolic. Of course, that is far from true. A dangerous playmaker as well, Kerr will be a thorn in the side of defenders and especially goalkeepers, as her finishing skills are sublime, even better when she constantly breaks the line, something England know all too well after Kerr dominated a recent friendly meeting, racking up a goal and an assist. In international play, Kerr is exactly what you’d expect: recent highlights include seven goals and two assists in the 2022 Asian Cup; six goals and one assist in the 2021 Olympics; and five goals in the 2019 World Cup. In front of the brightest lights, Kerr shines more than most athletes could fathom.
Caitlin Foord, Arsenal: Akin to Kerr’s rise through the ranks of football, Foord plied her trade in the NWSL, then went home to Australia, before making the leap into England. In the past season with Arsenal, she recorded her best campaign yet in North London. Playing 1953 minutes between the WSL and the Champions League, Foord played a major role in the Gooners’ relative success. A voyage to the semifinals of the Champions League and winning the League Cup (in which Foord started the final) are highlights, but at moments Arsenal lacked some pace to finish third. Nevertheless, chipping in with ten goals and eight assists is quite a good marker. 92 progressive dribbles is another number implying that Foord will be working alongside Kerr quite a bit, and they’ll be forming a dynamic duo in attack. This is Foord’s third World Cup, but with maturity and experience she didn’t carry in the last two, this could be the time where she truly breaks out. If recent events with the Matildas imply anything (five goals in seven friendlies in 2022), she’s well on pace to do so.
How They Qualified: Co-hosts | Recent Performances: 2022 Asian Cup – Quarterfinals; 2021 Olympics – 4th; 2019 World Cup – Round of 16 | Prediction: 1st and Semifinals
Last match versus Canada: 2-1 Canadian win with a brace from Adrianna Leon powering the Canucks forward in Sydney on September 6th, 2022.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND [WORLD RANKING: 22nd]
Amber Barrett, Standard Liege: Barrett is Ireland’s undisputed number nine. If she had anything to prove one last time before the World Cup, she did so with a brace in a friendly win over fellow World Cup participants Zambia, featuring a penalty and a beautiful volley perfectly timed to drop over the goalkeeper. Proof of excellence for country really shouldn’t be needed, though, after scoring the winning goal in the UEFA Play-Off versus Scotland. However, after seeing her 2022-23 season, one might wonder about her quality. With a single assist in 795 minutes of action in the Frauen-Bundesliga, Barrett suffered an injury-riddled and brutal year. Now with a move to Liege, goals for Ireland, and being a piece of Vera Pauw’s puzzle, her confidence must be restored.
Katie McCabe, Arsenal: The second Gunner to feature in this article may be the better of the two. A versatile player who can play a few roles on the pitch, McCabe is consistent everywhere she goes. In the 2022-23 WSL season, McCabe recorded three goals and four assists in 21 matches, right on par with her expected goals and assists numbers. Playing 84 progressive passes and 39 successful dribbles, McCabe will be key to Ireland’s hopes in attack. If Ireland scores and McCabe’s name isn’t on the scoresheet, it is a safe assumption that she will be involved with the play going forward out of midfield or wing-back positions. And balling in the Champions League? No problem. An unassuming year with just a single assist is what you see on the face of it, but McCabe was named to the team of the season in that competition. She played very close to 90 minutes per match, and once again had great numbers while progressing upfield. Ireland’s best excelled on the way to the World Cup, starting all nine qualifying matches, scoring seven while assisting four. The Girls in Green will have a boost simply knowing McCabe will grace the field for them at this tournament. A world class player on the world stage is always something you want to see. Unlike most stars, McCabe (and this goes for all Irish) has never been to a Women’s World Cup. Now, it’s up to the athletes like her to seize this moment.
How they qualified: UEFA Play-Off | Recent performances: 2022 European Championships – Did Not Qualify; 2021 Olympics – Did Not Qualify; 2019 World Cup – Did Not Qualify | Prediction: 4th
Last match versus Canada: It’s been just under a decade since Canada played Ireland, so there are no relevant recent results
NIGERIA [WORLD RANKING: 40th]
Asisat Oshoala, Barcelona: It is often that the continent of Africa produces incredible men’s footballers. Salah, Drogba, Weah, Mane, the list goes on and on. But on the women’s side, so much is stacked against potential stars. Funding and care for the women’s teams often are inadequate, the leagues have very little exposure, and very few can break through. However, the tide might slowly be turning. South Africa is bidding for the 2027 World Cup. The Women’s African Cup of Nations gets bigger every year. And Asisat Oshoala is taking the world by storm.
At the best women’s club in the world, FC Barcelona, Oshoala is one of their stars. A dominant force in both Liga F and the Champions League, Oshoala can put even the greatest team on her shoulders. A phenomenal playmaker and goalscorer, she recorded 21 goals and three assists in the 2022-23 Liga F season, to go along with five and three in European play. Her expected goals numbers were a little higher, but regardless she is a bona fide taliswoman. So much skill mixed together too makes one of the most formidable foes. The four African Footballer of the Year awards speak for themselves. Of course, who could forget her incredible solo effort which resulted in one of the 2019 World Cup’s best goals? A long run, dribble around the goalkeeper, and shot from an impossibly-small angle. Oshoala does it all, but blink you’ll miss it.
Rasheedat Ajibade, Atletico de Madrid: It does seem like the Super Falcons are superior up top. Between Oshoala, Ajibade, and rising talent Gift Monday they are set for dozens of goals for years to come. Ajibade is technically also a young star, and at 23 she has played exceptionally well in Europe. In her first two seasons, she plied her trade in Norway with Avaldsnes, compiling 12 goals in 40 matches. Then came her big break, a move to Spain. And in just a single season, she almost equalled that tally, with nine strikes and an assist in 20 Liga F matches. She could’ve got even more, as an 11.0 xG and 2.7 xA were recorded. 79 progressive carries will also help get the ball to her and Oshoala. Despite only being in her first season of big-time football, Ajibade did take part in the 2019 World Cup, playing only one half of action though. She did start twice in the Women’s African Cup of Nations the year prior. The 2022 edition of WAFCON was even better for her, as she finished with three goals and one assist, proving that she can do it under bright lights. The future looks very bright.
How they qualified: reached the 2022 WAFCON quarterfinals | Recent performances: 2022 WAFCON – 4th; 2021 Olympics – Did Not Q ualify2019 World Cup – Group Stage | Prediction: 3rd
Last match versus Canada: A 2-2 draw on Vancouver Island as part of Canada’s gold medal tour on April 11th, 2022. Ajibade did score in that match.
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