Canadians have become all too familiar with the sinking feeling of watching a football get hit from the spot, and whether the shot isn’t well-placed or the goalkeeper guesses right, despair settles over every supporter watching. But these emotions are regularly triggered by the men’s national team. Whether it was Alphonso Davies in Qatar or Charles-Andreas Brym in the Gold Cup, that squad has caused plenty of pain. The women’s team has not. Scoring countless penalties was the catalyst for their gold medal in Tokyo. Who could forget Christine Sinclair’s stoppage-time spot-kick against China to win the opening match of the 2015 World Cup? Regardless of the situation or stadium, Les Rouges have perfected the penalty.
That was, until Sinclair, seemingly destined to score, and become the first person to find the back of the net in six World Cups, struck it the same way Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie dived. Sinclair was visibly shocked and took a bit of time to pick herself back up.
You can’t shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, if expert penalty-taker Jesse Fleming didn’t have a knock suffered days earlier, preventing her from playing in this match, Canada would’ve found themselves up 1-0 early on in the second half.
Instead, the meeting stayed scoreless. Canada, without a doubt, had their fair share of chances. It just was like they were missing a puzzle piece. The Super Falcons of Nigeria also had some moments, and credit where credit is due, they stopped a lot of Canadian chances. They may have had much less possession, and only one shot on target, but for some long spells of the game it felt very 50/50, and either team could find a breakthrough. Typically, in those moments where the play was slowed down and the ball wasn’t darting much in one direction, Nigeria looked on the front foot. That’s because Canada immediately established a quick tempo and rhythm, finding chemistry quickly. So, when Nigeria prevented that from happening they were only one good ball forward to Asisat Oshoala away from really challenging Kailen Sheridan.
The San Diego Wave goalkeeper was forced into highlight-reel saves, one of which was sensational while still standing, only to be ruled offside. Oshoala was actually somewhat limited in her efforts to get on the board, Vannessa Gilles and Kadeisha Buchanan put in great shifts at centre-back going up against all of the attackers.
As a whole, Canada held a strong defensive shape. Quinn was unstoppable in the midfield, and by far the best on today wearing red. They won three duels, played four long balls, blocked two shots, and turned in a dominant two-way performance (stats via SofaScore). Their partner in that part of the pitch, Julia Grosso, was pretty decent, but Quinn stole the show there. Canada was very rigid, the back four was a four and the defensive midfield stayed the way it started aside from a couple Grosso runs into the box. This might have been why Canada’s defence let up just a bit, allowing a couple of streaking runners with the zonal approach.
The opposite could be said of Nigeria. They allowed next to no space for Canada’s attackers, moving with them in somewhat of a chaotic strategy but one that did stifle Jordyn Huitema and co. The service to Huitema, who is one of a few Canucks on-form in the NWSL, wasn’t good enough, and the dynamic between her and Sinclair will be interesting to watch play out even further. Sinclair is backed up a bit more as a second striker, but obviously if she is near the net she’ll score. Huitema’s aerial presence makes her better up top, but that wasn’t exhibited too much.
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Adrianna Leon was great on the left wing with Ashley Lawrence, they paired well, even if there is clearly a lot of overlapping talent there; as both of them could do fine on their own, and sometimes they look like they’re trying to do too much. On the other wing, Jayde Riviére and Deanne Rose didn’t come up with much. Sinclair gravitated onto that side a little more, maybe purposefully to help them out. Again though, Quinn played a lot of passes out of those areas, so maybe it was a question of Rose and Riviére just not having the ball enough. If Canada wants goals, then Huitema is the way, but you need equal service from both flanks, which wasn’t happening. Ten crosses were attempted on the left compared to two on the right.
A halftime substitution bringing Cloé Lacasse into the fold was the right move, and she is one of the multiple players deserving starts in the next match. Despite looking a bit frantic and quite possibly overthinking the route to scoring a goal, Sophie Schmidt emerged in the second half as a great player in transition. Late in the match, Nigeria looked for the draw, and focused almost entirely on clearances. Canada had to turn quickly and come up with another chance, avoiding the bright green shirts, and Schmidt, who came in for Sinclair, evaded and eluded barreling toward the net. Evelyne Viens got a shot on target just two minutes into her game, and definitely would’ve caused some headaches, as she had another shot blocked and completed a key pass.
Ireland is next, and given their style in the first game, relatively conservative aside from some bursts, and ultra-physical, so Canada can come out firing on all cylinders. This is why I would put Schmidt in for Grosso, and instill a more offensive focus in the midfield. Lacasse should also start, and Allysha Chapman deserves a shout over Riviére. We can also only hope Fleming will be back too.
No mountain is supposed to be easy to climb.
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