One year removed from World Cup humiliation, Canada could have its best Olympic showing to date. A semifinal clash with the U.S. awaits.
Canada supplied the shock of the Olympic tournament thus far, knocking out Great Britain in the quarterfinals with a tour de force performance. The shock wasn’t just the result, but the manner in which it was achieved.
Although both goals arrived from set pieces, Canada thoroughly dictated the run of play with crisp passing and incisive movement. Jonelle Filigno became the first player of the tournament to break through Great Britain’s defense with a lovely half-volley. The opening salvo pinned the hosts into a corner. Christine Sinclair’s arching free kick later in the first half proved to be the fatal blow.
It’s not the first time Canada – affectionately known as ‘Big Red’ – has entered a major tournament with hopes of playing a more substantive style of soccer. This is, however, the first time it’s worked. So far, at least.
The origins of Canada’s attack-minded ethos lie with former head coach Carolina Morace. The hard-nosed Italian took charge of a program that seemed to be stagnating – both competitively and stylistically. An all-out overhaul ensued.
Morace’s philosophy looked to catch fire, as Canada won the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying tournament (a.k.a. the Gold Cup) for the first time in nearly a decade. Her ideas also proved to be combustible. Canada would go on to crash out at the 2011 World Cup in spectacular fashion, losing all three group games while only registering one goal.
The unmitigated failure led to Morace’s exit and a brief period of soul-searching. John Herdman left his post as New Zealand head coach to assume the reins of a program struggling to find an identity and direction.On the back of Friday triumph, it appears he’s discovered both.
When the Englishman arrived at the helm last year, he vowed to build off the style Morace introduced to her players. He has since added his own personal touch. Physicality – not just possession – has become the name of Canada’s game.
In addition the more pragmatic approach, the team has developed something that was in short supply during the Morace era: self-assurance.
Canada went into the quarterfinal against Great Britain teeming with it. Gone were the nerves that paralyzed the team in its three World Cup group games last summer.
Canada will need to draw upon more of its new-found confidence on Monday when it comes up against three-time gold medalists and regional rivals the United States. For all of
England’s Great Britain’s workmanlike merits, they are a team prone to fading down the stretch. Fatigue and panic evidently crept into the side on Friday, particularly after shipping two goals.
The United States, in contrast, is considered the fittest team in the world. The U.S.’s record of dominance over its northern neighbors is daunting: 26 matches without a loss since 2001, with the most recent victory coming in late June.
After years of pretention and frustration, has Herdman truly transformed Canada into medal contenders? His side will be eager to show it has another surprise in store.