Coming off a dramatic 2-0 win over Australia in Canada’s opening match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Football tournament, Head Coach John Herdman’s youthful Canadian team is certain to be looking for a decisive win against Olympic newcomer Zimbabwe.
“This Zimbabwe team has achieved something great for its nation,” said Canada’s Head Coach John Herdman. “Qualifying out of Africa is never easy, and we won’t be taking anything for granted when we face them. They are a little bit of a wild card – they scored on Germany in their opening match – but this is a crucial match for us to gain qualification to the quarterfinals, so it’s just about taking care of business.”
When the players hit the pitch on Saturday, it’s likely more than just the Zimbabweans will be making their Olympic debut. After only one game, Canada has featured eight players making their first Olympic appearance, including goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Shelina Zadorsky, Jessie Fleming, Janine Beckie, Rebecca Quinn and Allysha Chapman.
“We have a saying within our team: if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and this is a very young team who are showing they are good enough to compete with teams ranked higher than us,” said John Herdman about his youthful squad for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “Many have been helped on their journey through Canada Soccer’s long term player development program and with the inception of the EXCEL programme four years ago we now have a strong conveyer belt through to the Women’s National Team that equips our youngsters with the tools to truly compete on the international stage.”
Canada’s team has an average age of 25 years old, and blends a mixture of youth with veterans like Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson, who have long put their mark on Canadian soccer. The make-up of Canada’s side is not a coincidence, but part of a larger plan with Canada Soccer’s Women’s EXCEL Program that was initiated in 2012.
“Consistent world-class performance on the highest stage is reliant on a development system that everybody in soccer believes in and contributes to,” said Herdman. “Canada Soccer Women’s EXCEL Program is helping develop a new Canadian soccer DNA. We have worked hard to establish a new standard for elite player development and now our budding international players are exposed to best-with-best training conditions from the east to the west coast. The programme is still growing and that is what is excites me most – I still don’t think we’ve fully unlocked the potential of this country”
Canada’s player pipeline is getting stronger each year, but 2016 is a particularly important year as Canada plays in the Olympics as well as CONCACAF Girls’ Under-15 Championships (9-21 August), and the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup later in the year.
“Canada Soccer has strengthened the ways we identify and develop the most promising young female athletes and help drive women’s soccer forward,” said Herdman. “These players, and the youth coming through our system, are evidence our pathway is working.”