The 2019 Women’s World Cup: Canada vs Sweden
Canada 0-1 Sweden
Oh, Canada. Whilst the Canadian men’s national team have pretty a wretched record on the international stage – one appearance in the World Cup finals on 1986 which ended with elimination on the group stages, although the team’s performances themselves were far from a disgrace – the women’s team has long been held in considerably higher regard. For all of that, though (and this could be an unfortunate turn of phrase, but I can assure you all that I would be using it regardless of the gender of the team involved), Canada have long been the bridesmaids but never the brides of international women’s football. Four years ago, hosting the competition granted Canada the opportunity to break this spell only for the team to be eliminated in the quarter-finals by England. This time around, they couldn’t even make it that far.
At the end of a closely-matched encounter with Sweden, Canada will be left to reflect upon a golden opportunity spurned. Midway through the second half of last night’s match at Parc des Princes, the award of a (relatively non-controversial) penalty kick for handball gave them a chance to push a game that had sat on a knife-edge into extra-time, only for the Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl to save Janine Becker’s penalty kick. There was still VAR-related controversy to follow, but if we follow the (sometimes simplistic but seldom incorrect) narrative that a losing side usually has one chance to get back into a game, this was Canada’s in Paris last night.
To describe the first half as cagey would be something of an understatement. For forty-five minutes, the two teams seemed a little intimated to make a big move against their opponents, and there was barely a shot on target taken by either. This isn’t to say that the football on display was bad, per se, more that, for all the nice passing in triangles, there was little end product on display from either team. The half-time whistle arrived with the curious feeling that the game hadn’t really actually started yet.
Ten minutes into the second half, though, a goal came as though from out of the blue. Kosovare Asllani placed a quite beautiful pass through the middle of the Canadian defence which was paced perfectly into the path of Stina Blackstenius, who lifted the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper and into the goal. The goalkeeper’s rush may have been a bit hasty. Such were the angles that she gave Blackstenius an ample target to aim at. This, however, shouldn’t detract from an outstanding passage of play from Sweden, a passage which turned out the be the best of the evening from either team.
Midway through the half, though, came Canada’s big chance when a fierce shot hit Asllani’s arm and, after a lengthy prevarication while the decision was ratified, Canada had a penalty kick. Swedish complaints – it didn’t look much as though Asllani had “made herself bigger” with her arms and the shot was powerful enough for her to barely have any chance to move her arms in any direction – however were rendered irrelevant by what happened next. It has been said that, with goalkeepers having to keep their feet on the line on pain of facing a retake, saving penalty kicks has become almost impossible for goalkeepers, to which the response of the Sweden goalkeeper Lindahl was definitely, “Hold my beer.” Springing acrobatically to her right, she palmed Becker’s penalty superbly away. Canada’s chance had come and gone.
With eleven minutes to play, Sweden had a chance to extend their lead when Ashley Lawrence’s clumsy challenge on Fridolina Rolfo caused the referee to blow for a penalty kick, only for the decision to be called back on account of a marginal offside call in the build-up. Four minutes later, Asllani, who has been Sweden’s most impressive player in this tournament so far, had a chance to kill the game off once and for all when she fired a volley towards goal, only for Scott to stick out a leg and divert the ball to safety. All of this, however, says something about Canada’s shortcomings.
With less than ten minutes to play and Sweden leading by a goal to nil, the Swedes were still the team creating the clearest opportunities. Even in stoppage-time at the end of the match Asllani had a chance to finally finish Canada off only for Sophie Schmidt, she with the haircut which makes it look as though she has Bagpuss curled up asleep on her head, to get in and clear the ball. The seven minutes of stoppage-time made no difference to Canada. It looked as though they could have played another seventy without forcing an equaliser. Sweden, efficient and tidy (if not the sort of team to set one’s pulse racing), are through to a quarter-final match against Germany. Canada could only manage two shots on target in ninety minutes, and one of those was the missed penalty kick. That sentence in itself sums up why Canada didn’t quite have it in them to make it any further in this summer’s Women’s World Cup.