It didn’t take long for everything to be thrown out the window. Plans written off, hopes put down the drain. As Katie McCabe curled in a goal from the corner flag in just the fourth minute, the fastest goal of this World Cup, the wheels were falling off. But Canada couldn’t lose hope. Immediately after the goal, Quinn got all the players to form a huddle deep in their end. Something changed in the group. Not in the moment, but over time Canada became a team that put Ireland under serious threat of conceding more than two goals.
In the second half of the match, played under unideal conditions in Perth with the rain beating down and a crowd favouring the Irish, Canada played arguably their best half of football so far. They went through the second frame with a game plan different from that of the match versus Nigeria in attack, and with a few substitutions made right at halftime, it looked like the ideal squad for Bev Priestman moving forward. And if their clinical ability was a bit better, it’d be pure dominance. 12 shots, five of which were on target, 75% accurate passing, and improved percentages on both long balls and crosses (all stats via SofaScore).
Canada’s crosses maybe didn’t come from the typical areas near the touchline. They were from further out, and they attacked mostly through the middle. Opening up the contest, it looked like maybe that was the wrong decision. Ireland was holding strong centrally and knocking away any ball Canada played forward. It’s truly a miracle Julia Grosso’s equalizer (meant as a cross) late in stoppage time found the net because Ireland had denied seemingly all of Canada’s balls toward runners near the ground.
However, it was mastered. Possibly it could’ve been the sheer amount of times Canada was going forward in the second half tired out Ireland, but the revamped midfield with Sophie Schmidt and Christine Sinclair worked like a charm. Evelyne Viens garnered a lot of hype in the first match after very quickly getting stuck in and getting chances, but she didn’t seem to gel with the others at all. The entire unit at the top just wasn’t natural, and maybe it was the absence of Sinclair for 45 minutes, or maybe it was too many changes. Jessie Fleming returning was positive and provided important service to Jordyn Huitema. She was two-for-three on long ball attempts, creating one big chance and three key passes.
Overall, the chances Huitema got were much improved. She didn’t get to necessarily be herself for half of the match, playing out wide to allow Viens to be the number nine, but had four shots on target, none off. She got more looks from long-range, and although that could be a part of Les Rouges’ offensive plans considering the quality of players further back down the pitch, it didn’t work on Wednesday. Adrianna Leon also had a chance from there, and the winning goalscorer hit it right at Courtney Brosnan. Huitema’s other opportunities came from the air, where she is best and where Canada’s crosses or long balls have to go for her. It’ll continue to be said until it happens: put the ball in the air to the middle and Huitema will do the rest. Canada’s got to keep trying to get her the ball.
Meanwhile, Sinclair is struggling. She could have a hat trick, to be honest. Nerves are not what’s getting to her, she’s been on this stage plenty of times to be able to fight off those, but it could just be her technical skills. Her timing is just a bit off, and on one shot, as Amy Walsh pointed out on the TSN broadcast, it looked like she had guessed that the ball took a bounce off an Irish defender when it really hadn’t. She was in great form in the NWSL, and she can get that back.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Surprisingly, given both teams’ last showings, there wasn’t much physicality. Jayde Riviére set the tone with a very quick and beautiful tackle of McCabe, but nothing else stood out as a root of bad blood. Canada’s defence looked very wobbly, both in play and also getting injured, as Kailen Sheridan went down for a bit, so did Ashley Lawrence, and Kadeisha Buchanan had to be removed at the break, which could be very unfortunate if it isn’t resolved. And with only 16 fouls and three yellow cards (Ireland had more fouls, Canada had more cards) from primarily defensive teams, that could definitely be seen as a victory in terms of staying healthy.
Back to the defence, though, and it seemed like they were being caught off guard just by Kyra Carusa going down the middle, and oftentimes Lucy Quinn getting set up for a run down the right flank. There were limited numbers as Grosso, Quinn, and for the second half Schmidt were all deployed to score, so Buchanan/Shelina Zadorsky and Vannessa Gilles were left alone a lot. Credit has to go to the fullbacks Lawrence and Riviére who combined for five tackles without conceding a card, whereas both starting centre-backs did.
The task at the back will get even more difficult as Sam Kerr returns from injury just in time for Australia’s game against Canada in Melbourne. Between Kerr, Steph Catley, and Caitlyn Foord, the Matildas will be the most threatening of any of the Canucks’ opponents. You can only hope that Canada taps back into putting up an iron wall at the back, and Priestman rolls with the XI who started this second half. It has a great case to be Canada’s strongest.
The final tilt, with the group on the line, goes down on Monday.
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