Canada wastes hot start, drawing Japan in Olympic opener

·4-min read

It was a dream start, but in the end a just result. 

Christine Sinclair’s strike in the sixth minute was erased six minutes before full time, and Canada drew host Japan 1-1 in its opening match at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While not a disaster by any means to draw level with the talented hosts, the result puts much more pressure on Canada’s second match Saturday versus Chile.

Here are the main points from the game:

Seniority rules

Canada has loads of experience in the squad, and it seems most of it was left on the pitch. 

It almost appeared as though manager Bev Priestman made concessions with her lineup — most notably starting Ashley Lawrence at wing back — in order to squeeze as many veterans into the squad as possible. While it resulted in a fairly composed performance, there was also a measure of disjointedness with the team, which overall lacked pace and creativity, routinely struggling to get in behind the Japanese backline.

With several underwhelming individual performances — and the immediate dynamism shown from a substitute like Deanne Rose — it will be interesting to see how Priestman constructs her starting lineup for Chile. 

It feels like there are plenty of young lions on the bench ready to make an impact, and which could contribute to a better optimized squad.

Heroic moment

Doesn’t it seem like Canadian goalkeepers always play a front and centre role?

It was no different in the opener versus Japan, with Stephanie Labbe providing a moment to remember — even if it’s potentially her last in the tournament. 

Labbe committed a VAR-confirmed foul chasing a ball skipping away from an oncoming Japanese forward, and hurt her shoulder in the subsequent collision. She was in tears as she writhed around on the pitch but stayed in the net after several minutes to stare down a penalty attempt from Tanaka Mina, atoning for her mistake.

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Labbe remained in the Canadian net for several more minutes before signalling that she needed to be spelled. The much-hyped and very talented Kailen Sheridan came in, eventually giving up a goal that could have been played a little better in the moment.

Canada should be in decent hands with Sheridan, but Labbe’s experience and poise was immediately discernible in the game, and her presence will be missed if she can’t continue in the tournament.

Legend

Canada's forward Christine Sinclair (3R) celebrates with teammates scoring the opening goal during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women's group E first round football match between Japan and Canada at the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo on July 21, 2021. (Photo by ASANO IKKO / AFP) (Photo by ASANO IKKO/AFP via Getty Images)
Christine Sinclair celebrates with teammates scoring the opening goal against Japan during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (Photo by ASANO IKKO / AFP) (Photo by ASANO IKKO/AFP via Getty Images)

What better way to celebrate 300 caps with the senior team?

Sinclair might not be the same player, but the goal-scoring instincts haven’t worn. After hitting the post with her first attempt after a wonderful ball into the box from Nichelle Prince, Sinclair kept moving while others froze, putting herself in position to deposit the rebound.

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This was Sinclair’s 187th goal, incredibly, in those 300 appearances. 

Semi-permeable

Canada did not have too many standout performances in the game, that’s why it seems cruel that Kadeisha Buchanan and Shelina Zadorsky were partially responsible for the equalizer from Japan.

Buchanan and Zadorsky looked like the strength of the Canadian team from their centre back positions in Wednesday’s opening match. Buchanan in particular was dominant, shutting down Japanese attacks with ease and showing a level of strength and composure that went simply unmatched.

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The job is only going to become more difficult as the tournament goes on, but Canada has the right players in the centre of the defence to compete with Great Britain, and the other talented teams to come.

Room for improvement

It might not be fair to pick on one individual performance after a fairly underwhelming total team effort, but Janine Beckie stood out in terms of forgettable performances. 

Missed passes and wasted opportunities in space was the theme for Beckie, who plays such an important role for Canada in the attacking third and with spot kicks. 

Beckie was close to scoring herself from one of her many corners, but routinely failed to put the ball in spots for her teammates to attack in the air with her many crosses in the game. Height was certainly an advantage Canada did not take versus Japan.

No doubt Beckie will remain in the squad, given her many functions. But she, like many Canadians, must be better as the tournament continues. 

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