The Canadian women's soccer team may be making their first appearance in the Olympics, but they displayed plenty of poise in their opening match. Manager Even Pellerud made the bold decision to go with a 3-4-3 lineup, an offensive-minded formation featuring the deadly striking talents of Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi and Kara Lang, and his strategy paid off as Canada defeated Argentina 2-1 on the strength of goals from Lang and defender Candace Chapman. However, don't start counting them in for gold medals yet.
The Canadians completely dominated the match's possession and offensive chances, recording nine shots to Argentina's three. They were strong defensively as well, limiting Argentina's build-up play and holding them to mostly long shots that posed little to no trouble for keeper Erin McLeod. There were weaknesses, though, most notably in the finishing department. Chapman scored a great goal with a long, low drive from 35 yards out off a corner kick, aided considerably by a perfect screen from Tancredi that wouldn't have looked out of place in the NHL. Lang's goal was also a thing of beauty, as she headed in a well-taken free kick from Ottawa Fury midfielder Rhian Wilkinson. It was perfect revenge for Lang, as she'd just been viciously hacked down by Argentina's Maria Quinones, who earned a yellow card for her trouble and conceded the crucial free kick.
There was no issue with the finishing on either goal, but the Canadians had countless other chances that they could have converted and didn't. 19-year-old forward Jodi-Ann Robinson broke in alone on goal late in the match and chipped keeper Correa brilliantly, but her chip didn't have enough force on it and Quiones rushed back to clear it off the line. Defender Martina Franko had two terrific chances, but couldn't convert either: her close-range header early on hit Tancredi's back and deflected over the net, while her strong close-in volley late in the game range off the crossbar. Lang had another goal called back due to an offside, Wilkinson put an easy shot over the net from 12 yards out and Sinclair was robbed several times by strong saves from Correa. When Argentina pulled a goal back in the 85th minute off a defensive mistake by Wilkinson, it looked like those missed opportunities might come back to haunt the Canadians. The lack of finishing didn't hurt this time against 27th-ranked Argentina, but it might against the other, better teams in the group: third-ranked Sweden and 14th-ranked China.
The other issue for Canada is injuries up front. Forward Amber Allen was ruled out of the tournament earlier this week [CBCsports.ca] with a leg injury, and Robinson was called in to replace her. During the match against Argentina, another key striker went down. Tancredi rolled her ankle 19 minutes in and was stretchered off. She returned and toughed it out for most of the rest of the half, but was replaced by Robinson in the 42nd minute. Fortunately, Canada probably has more depth at striker than anywhere else, and Robinson is certainly a capable replacement: she already has six goals and 30 caps for the full national team, despite being only 19. Beyond her, the options are weaker, though: the only other players listed as forwards are 17-year-old Jonelle Filigno and 25-year-old Amy Vermeulen. Both have played for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Vermeulen's also played with the Ottawa Fury, but neither has extensive experience at the national level.
In any case, it was a strong debut on the Olympic stage for the women's national team. They'll need to improve against the tougher teams to get out of the group, but based on their play today, a result against China on Saturday is quite possible and taking points from Sweden next Tuesday may not even be out of the question. This is a great team, featuring both veterans and young stars that have gelled into a cohesive unit. They'll be fun to watch in any case, and they could go far if everything falls into place.
- Canadian women open Olympics with win [Jim Morris, The Canadian Press via The Globe and
- My liveblog of the proceedings for those who want more detail [Sporting Madness].
- My GBU breakdown of the game [Sporting Madness].