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Canada had already accomplished two of its objectives at the Concacaf W Championship when the team stepped on the field against Costa Rica at the BBVA Stadium in Monterrey, Mexico on Monday.
Having won its opening two games of the eight-team tournament, Canada already booked a semifinal berth and with it, qualified for the 2023 FIFA World Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Yet, there was still something on the line against Costa Rica, as a win would have Canada avoiding the first-place finisher in the other group — likely the United States — in the semifinal of the tournament, making the route to the final and an opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics a little easier.
Jessie Fleming and Sophie Schmidt scored for Canada in the 2-0 victory against Costa Rica setting up a semifinal game Thursday, against either Haiti or Jamaica. The two teams were playing for a semifinal berth behind the United States in Group A later in the evening.
The Concacaf Championship is also acting as a World Cup and Olympic qualifier for the region. The four semifinalist all qualified for the World Cup, while the winner also books a spot into the Olympics.
The second and third-place finishers at the tournament will have a playoff in September for another berth into the Paris Games. Canada is the reigning Olympic champions.
“Going into the game, we want to have a good level of consistency,” said Canada head coach Bev Priestman prior to the contest. “You’re hoping to go into the three games with that level of consistency you’d like to see in tournament football; that’s the most important thing.
“You want to see players bringing their best version of themselves. We’ve seen little moments of that across the games, but that’s probably what we want from the players, to put their best foot forward and their best performances going forward.”
Canada is hoping the best is yet to come after struggling, at times, to break down its defensive-minded opponents in the first three games. They will face another in the semifinal against either Haiti or Jamaica, who both upset host Mexico in the group stage.
Canada scored four goals in the final 11 minutes to put away Trinidad and Tobago in its opening game, scored just one in a win against Panama and struggled to put chances away in the first half against Costa Rica on a hot evening where temperatures reached 37C.
Fleming opened the scoring four-and-half minutes into the game against Costa Rica, to take some of the pressure off Canada.
The talented midfielder took an exceptional through pass from Nichelle Price, walked in on goal and slotted the ball past Costa Rica goalkeeper Daniela Solera.
It was all one-way traffic through the rest of the first half, but Canada was unable to increase the lead, squandering a number of excellent opportunities, which has been a theme for the team, dating back to their Olympic title.
Costa Rica sat back for most of the contest, rarely venturing forward, afraid to leave any openings for the speedy Canadian side. As had been the case in the previous two games, Canada had to be patient and try to pick its spots.
Schmidt added a second 70 minutes into the game, moments after coming on as a substitute for Quinn in midfield. The veteran Schmidt, 34, was making her first appearance in the tournament and took a ball in the penalty area, sidestepped a defender and bent a shot into the far corner of the net past Solera.
The goal was Schmidt’s first for Canada since scoring in an exhibition game against Jamaica in April, 2019. She has 20 international goals in 213 games.
Heading into the semifinal, Priestman is confident in her squad, which has seen opponents defend in numbers, showing a new level of respect to Canada.
“When there is what there is on the line coming up, this team is not going to let that go very easily,” Priestman said. “Tournament football is about winning and doing whatever it takes to win, but it’s also about bringing that level of consistency, and there are some players who have put their best foot forward to bring that level of consistency.
“I’d like to think that all the players going in now with the level of opposition we’re going into, they’re focused, they’re ready to go and they can enjoy being out there.”
If all goes according to plan, it will come down to Canada and the United States for the tournament title and automatic berth into the Olympics.
Even if Canada does not manage to beat the United States in the final, they will likely face Costa Rica again in the Olympic playoff.
Costa Rica is an improving team, but are still well behind Canada in its development, which was obvious Monday.
Despite rolling past Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama in its first two group games, scoring seven goals combined in the process, Costa Rica failed to generate anything offensively against Canada.
“They have some key players, a couple of players that play in Bordeaux, in Portland,” Priestman said. “There are some good players that our players have played against and with. They’re good at crossing, and one-v-ones down the outside; that sort of little bit of flair.
“If I look at our super strengths, we’re great against one-v-one, we’re good at stopping crosses, we deal with crosses, so we do our basics well and that’s all I’m asking from this group, do our basics well and the believe in ourselves when we have the ball. I think these are the games that you play the game for, the arena, what’s on the line, so we’re all excited to get going.”
Email: [email protected]
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest