Canada begins fight for first FIFA Women’s World Cup
The FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway in Australia and New Zealand where team Canada searches for their first ever tournament win coming off a successful gold medal finish at the 2020 Olympics. Canada has been challenged in this tournament where they placed the highest of fourth place in 2003. In 2015, they fell in the quarterfinals, and were eliminated in the Round of 16 in 2019.
Many of the same players from the Olympic Gold squad and previous World Cup exits remain on the team, most notably Christine Sinclair, Kadeisha Buchanan, Quinnand Jessie Fleming (to name a few).
Sinclair takes the headlines as Canada’s long-time star player, making her sixth World Cup appearance. The captain looks to make history as the first player – female or male – to score at six World Cup’s , and add to her astonishing185 international goals.
Head Coach Bev Priestman says their group is the “Group of Death”. Canada’s spot in Group B sees the team go head-to-head against Nigeria, the Republic of Ireland, and co-hosts Australia.
Some might wonder why Canada’s Group would get that label as their opponents sit respectively below the seventh seed in international rankings with Australia at the tenth spot, the Republic of Ireland in 22nd, and Nigeria in 40th, according to FIFA’s ranking system.
However, each team brings a different approach, tenacity, and hunger to the world stage. Canada’s success, of course, depends on a variety of different factors – their ability to score and win games tops the list.
The squad squares off against Nigeria in their first Group B match. Back in April 2022, the two met in a set of friendly matches that saw Canada win 2-0 and draw 2-2. Nigeria is backed by key players making their own important impacts. Barcelona star and five-time CAF African Women’s Footballer of the Year, forward Asisat Oshoala, leads the Nigerian attack as a powerful two-way player, capable of defending on the backcheck and scoring on the offensive end. To her side, an impactful bench player for her NWSL squad includesUchenna Kanu, who has only 16 international caps but adds youthful speed and has been on the field for five Nigerian wins.
Rasheedat Ajibade’s confident style of play paired with her impressive footwork marks another key component of the Nigerian squad as an attacking midfielder who has the ability to read plays and dance herself out of the reach of opposing players. Toni Payne headlines her side as a versatile player with three positions who is technically sound and clever with the ball. The team is backed by centerback Onome Ebi, marking her sixth World Cup squad and bringing her long career with her to guide her teammates and influence the movement of the pitch from the back.
How does a star-studded Canadian side fare against a rising Nigerian power?
Priestman, first, will have to figure out a replacement for Janine Beckie, ruled out indefinitely due to a knee injury. “I can sit here and say, ‘Yeah, we’ve got the answer [for replacing Beckie]’. We don’t. That’s the reality.” Priestman said.
Youngster Julia Grosso is certainly on Priestman’s radar. Her capacity for building and anticipating plays could mirror that of Beckie’s, but those shoes to fill are tall. Importantly for Grosso, her ability to remain calm under pressure can open other Canadian players by drawing attention to her or sending in crosses for her teammates.
Kailen Sheridan, Canada’s no-doubt starting goalkeeper, will play an immeasurable role in Canada’s fight for the Cup. Following in the footsteps of now retired ‘keeper Stephanie Labbe, Priestman notes the two were “neck-and-neck” for the starting position at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sheridan provides a calming influence on the back line that gained the trust of her teammates, helping her win 35 international caps with 17 shutouts. She took home the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2022 with astonishing numbers, including 0.95 goals-against average, and a stat-line Priestman surely watches are her three of four penalty saves that could come in handy later in the tournament.
Jessie Flemming adds to the depth of the Canadian squad, feeling the lows of the team’s early exit in 2019 and the highs of the 2020 Olympics. She proves to be a reliable player, playing the full five of six Olympic matches. Flemming highlights the team with 19 goals and plays a versatile midfield role capped by her passing skills, field vision and technique.
With the United States as the reigning World Champions favoured to take it all, the Canadian side looks to not only better their chances but win the Group Stage and advance past the Round of 16.
Priestman has high hopes for the team leading up to their opening match on 20 July. “Do I think that this team can push towards a podium finish at this World Cup? One million per cent. And on our day, we should.”