Olympic champions Canada kicked off Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team Celebration Tour with a dominant 5:1 victory in the nation’s capital against New Zealand on Saturday afternoon. Jessie Fleming, Christine Sinclair, Nichelle Prince, and Adriana Leon (two) were the goalscorers while Fleming earned Player of the Match honours.
The Canada match was played in front of 16,386 fans at TD Place in Ottawa which was the largest crowd at the venue since the Covid pandemic. The two sides will meet again on Tuesday at Stade Saputo in Montréal.
“Even before the game started, it was really special for all the fans who showed up early for our Women’s National Team Celebration Tour,” said Bev Priestman, Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team Head Coach. “They made it really memorable for the group. To score five goals against a top-25 team was an important step forward for us on our path to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It speaks to us not standing still. That was the really critical point. We did a lot of work post-Olympic Games to see how we do that.”
Canada are Olympic champions for the first time after winning the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Japan this year. Unbeaten across six matches, Canada Soccer achieved their best-ever result at the Olympic Games while also winning their third consecutive medal, thus “changing the colour of their medal” from back-to-back Bronze at London 2012 and Rio 2016 to Gold at Tokyo 2020 and Rising Higher on the podium.
“To be able to celebrate this gold medal with the fans, it’s a special moment,” said captain Christine Sinclair from Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team. “The best moment for me was walking out in front of the fans for the first time being able to wear the gold medal in front of them. I’m a firm believer that people need to see it to believe it, so to be able to play at home in front of these youngsters, you realize that in that moment you can change a young kids life, and that’s what we’re all about. Trying to inspire the next generation. I’m sure that one or two of the young players in the stands tonight will be one of the next National Team players.”
Before kick off, both Canada and New Zealand linked arms at the centre circle and observed a minute of silence to show solidarity with the victims in soccer and sport and a shared commitment to safe sport for all.
“We’ve been working collaboratively, Canada Soccer and the players, so I think it’s a great moment because we know we have a responsibility to use our platform,” said Priestman. “It’s a great moment and I’m pleased that we could work together to do that. I’m really privileged and proud to coach this team.”
Canada’s October matches also signify the start of the journey to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 and Olympic Games in 2024. While some regions have already begun FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in September and Concacaf nations begin their qualification matches in February, Canada will play their first official matches next July at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship.
Canada’s first chance came in the 7’ when Janine Beckie made a cutting run into the New Zealand penalty area and picked out a pass to Nichelle Prince whose first-time shot was caught comfortably by New Zealand’s keeper, Erin Nayler.
In the 11’, a cross from Beckie on the wing found Christine Sinclair in the box. Sinclair’s attempted touch over the defender caught the arm of the New Zealander and was called for a hand ball in the box. Jessie Fleming stepped up to take the penalty, picked her spot, and once again converted calmly (12’) to give Canada the 1:0 lead.
A few minutes later, Sinclair had the chance to double the Canadian lead after Allysha Chapman and Fleming made a couple of passes out wide that created the space for Fleming to cross the ball into the box. Sinclair’s volley looked like it was headed in on the far side but was blocked by a defender (15’).
Sinclair would get her goal just before halftime. Beckie again played in a great ball from a wide area to the far post, finding Deanne Rose who heads it back into the middle. There was a miscommunication between the New Zealand keeper and defender and Sinclair capitalized on the loose ball, stealing it and floating a shot into the open net for her 188th international goal (42’).
In the 57’, Beckie played a pass through the New Zealand defence that was dummied by Rose and found Prince all alone behind the defenders. Prince took one touch around the keeper and slid the shot home to make the score 3:0.
Sinclair nearly added her second in the 63’, but saw her first shot blocked by a defender and her follow-up shot stopped by a fantastic diving save by Nayler.
New Zealand got one back to make it 3:1 after Chapman’s feet got tangled up with Ava Collins in the box and the visitors were awarded a penalty. Ria Percival’s shot from the spot was too strong for Kailen Sheridan who was able to get her fingers on it but couldn’t keep it out (70’).
Canada added a fourth goal in the 75’. Fresh off the bench, Gabrielle Carle played in a great pass to Beckie who was able to pick out Adriana Leon in the middle of the box. Leon confidently took the shot first time to make the score 4:1.
Leon scored her second goal of the match less than 10 minutes later (82’). Sophie Schmidt played a fantastic ball high down the wing that allowed Beckie to run onto it beyond the defence. Beckie’s shot was saved by Nayler but fell right to Leon who controlled the bounce and tapped the ball into the open net.
Beckie came close to netting a goal of her own just before the end of the match after she was again played in by Schmidt, but was robbed by a great save from the New Zealand keeper (88’).
Canada’s starting XI featured Stephanie Labbé in goal, Janine Beckie at right back, Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles at centre back, Allysha Chapman at left back, and Desiree Scott, Quinn, Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, Christine Sinclair and Nichelle Prince from the midfield up through to the attack. In the second half, coach Bev Priestman replaced Labbé with Kailen Sheridan (47’), Gilles with Shelina Zadorsky (47’), Sinclair with Adriana Leon (64’), Rose with Jordyn Huitema (64’), Quinn with Sophie Schmidt (64’), and Prince with Gabrielle Carle (74’). Of note, Gilles made her first international home appearance for Canada in Canada.