The CanWNT/CanXNT took on Nigeria in the second of two games in their April camp on Monday. Here’s what stood out to us from that one.
It might’ve not been the result that they wanted out of it, but it certainly was an entertaining game.
And at the end of the day, they showed great resilience in a tough environment, learning some important lessons along the way.
So while the CanWNT/CanXNT might be left disappointed after a tough 2-2 draw against Nigeria at Starlight Stadium on Monday, there’s a lot for them to take from that game, pushing them towards what lies ahead in the future.
Coming as part of the last game of a 2-match set in their west coast Olympic gold medal ‘Celebration Tour’, it was a good reminder of while there is a lot to celebrate with this team right now, their journey towards the 2023 World Cup is just starting off, and it’s not going to be an easy one.
But that’s no issue for Canada, who is prepared for that.
Of course, celebrating was always going to be a must at this camp, but their goal was always to grow from two competitive games, which is why they invited a tough Nigeria side as an opponent.
And while Canada came out strong against them in the first game of this camp in a 2-0 win at BC Place, one where they dominated their guests en route to a convincing win, this match showed why they had offered warnings of this Nigeria team beforehand.
Because of that, when looking back on this match, there’s a lot to like with this game. The result will sting, no doubt, especially given Canada’s mixed performance, but they showed great fight to come back twice after conceding goals, finding the resilience needed to break through an ironclad Nigerian defence.
“I’m frustrated,” Canadian head coach, Bev Priestman, said of the match. “I think we had maybe 20 shots, and just couldn’t find the back of the net as much as we would’ve liked to.”
“But I think, overall, I’m really pleased with the resilience shown.”
So overall, it was a good end to this camp, as Canada got the sort of test they craved ahead of this summer, where they’ll face a lot of similarly frustrating opponents at the CONCACAF Championships down in Monterrey, which serve as the qualifiers for next year’s World Cup (as well as (sort of) the 2024 Olympics and 2024 Gold Cup).
But before looking too far ahead at that, however, let’s take a look back at what Canada learned about themselves in this game, as they showed good fightback after a few rare moments of adversity.
Super Falcons get off to flying start despite tough crowd:
To start the match, though, Canada was expected to have a big advantage, which is partly why this result might seem surprising at first glance.
Much like their game a few days earlier at BC Place, the atmosphere was fantastic at Starlight Stadium for Canada on Monday.
In front of a sold-out stadium, one that was literally packed to the brim with mostly Canadian supporters, the noise would be very much in Canada’s favour, which given how they responded to a similar environment in that 2-0 win a few days prior, made them seem the likely to come out strong.
“The crowd was incredible,” Priestman said. “They turned up early, and that shows a major commitment. And it just feels like a real community club, I’ve got to say it felt warm, the crowd was with us right till the very end and really spurred us on to keep pushing to get that goal back. So yeah, it was an incredible atmosphere.”
But while they’d come out ready to play, as expected, much to their surprise, so did Nigeria, who seemed quite unfazed by the settings in which the game was played.
And as a result, it allowed the Super Falcons to get off to a flying start.
Right in the 5th minute, despite withstanding a couple of early waves of Canada pressure, they’d find a way to make the most of their first big foray forward.
There, after a nice cross into the box on a wide set-piece, the ball fell nicely to Ifeoma Onumonu inside of the box, who’d do very well to backheel the ball towards goal despite having her back turned away from the frame, breaching the net with her creative and audacious attempt.
And that’d be huge for the guests.
In a tough environment, where there was a strong contingent of Canadian fans, they’d done well to make the most of a glorious chance, giving them a chance to do something they didn’t get to do on Friday – play with a lead.
So for them, that put them in a strong position as they got set for the rest of the game, knowing that they’d be able to take on Canada from an advantageous position.
Seeing how strong they’d actually defended in that 2-0 game despite the scoreline, you could only imagine what they’d be able to do this time given that they had a lead, giving them a big boost.
Sinclair proves GOAT status once again:
So that left Canada to go and chase the game, as they had to make sure to break down Nigeria before they got too comfortable with that lead.
Which, to give them credit, they slowly started to do.
Adriana Leon would have a decent slash at the ball in the 8th minute, which would fly well wide, before she had a much better attempt off of a free kick in the 19th minute, forcing a nice save out of Chiamaka Nnadozie in the Nigerian goal.
Then, they’d come real close in the 27th minute, as the ball would fall to Janine Beckie after a corner, and she’d rip a shot, one that would be only kept out by the post, before Kadeisha Buchanan would be blocked on the line on the ensuing rebound.
Continuing that, Beckie would get another good look at goal in the 35th minute in transition, and unleashed a powerful low shot, but it’d be easily saved by Nnadozie.
Fighting to get that equalizer before half, Canada would knock on the door once again in the 41st minute, as the ball would fall to Leon at the edge of the box, where she’d unleash a powerful shot, but her shot would drift just wide.
After that, though, there wouldn’t be much to write home about in the first half, leaving Canada to continue their chase for that first goal into the second stanza.
And to start that second half, Nigeria would come out on the front foot, as Uchenna Kanu had a great sight at goal from distance, picking the corner with a great strike, but it would be kept out by Canada’s Sabrina D’Angelo, who did well to make the stop despite just coming into the game.
But from there, that’d lead to Canada having their big moment in the 49th minute.
After a turnover high up the pitch from Nigeria, with Nnadozie well off the line, the ball would land at the feet of Christine Sinclair, who had just won the ball back.
And there, the all-time top international goalscorer would do the rest, as she’d look up, pick her spot, and loft it over Nnadozie, who’d have to watch the ball sail over her head, off the post, and slowly into the net for a golazo.
With that, not only had she gotten her team back into the game, but had seemingly swung all the momentum towards her side, too, showing the magnitude of the goal.
But that’s just what Sinclair has always, and continues to do, for this Canadian team.
There’s a reason why she has 189 goals internationally, the most of anyone in history, and that’s because no matter the game, the opponent or the competition, she just knows how to step up big, delivering the big goals.
So in a sense, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see her score in the way that she did, especially given that she’d come off the bench, a rarity for her these days despite her 38 years of age.
She might not score as regularly as she did back in her prime, but she is a huge part of Canada’s link-up play, and is always good for a big goal like this one every once in a while.
And that just shows why despite nearing an age where nearly everyone would expect her to be retired by now, she’s still going strong, still a key part of this Canadian team, showing that she isn’t going to quite sail off into the sunset quite yet.
Late push yields some fruit, but not all:
But then, nearly as quickly as Canada had gotten back into the game, they wouldn’t be able to savour that feeling, as they’d nearly immediately go back behind again right in the 53rd minute.
There, after a nice cross into the box from Rasheedat Ajibade, the ball would sail dangerously towards Canada’s back post, with some great curl on it.
And thanks to that, it’d almost have eyes, as despite failing to hit a Nigerian head, the ball would end up going straight into the Canadian net, as Canada would be unable to block it.
So as a result, it left Canada with the exact same task that they had just a few minutes prior, which was to get back into the game, coming off of yet another big goal from the guests.
But then, much as they did before, Canada would continue to stick at it, as they chased an equalizer.
They’d come close to doing so in the 64th minute, as Sinclair would go for the chip again from a much tighter angle in the box, but would be just denied by the crossbar, before a cross would find Shelina Zadorsky on the ensuing corner, who’d also hit the bar.
A few minutes later, second-half sub, Julia Grosso, would also nearly get in on the action, as she’d hit a nice volley from inside the box, but her shot would just loop over the target, much to the relief of Nigeria.
Not long after, Buchanan would try to get in on the action in the 76th minute, as she decided to have a go from distance, but her shot (which was carefully disguised as a cross) sailed just over the bar as well.
And then, it’d lead to a fun finish, as Canada really started to throw everything at Nigeria.
So thanks to that, they’d then find an equalizer late, late on, all the way in the 88th minute.
After a set-piece, the ball fell out wide to Beckie, who’d immediately look up, take a touch, and rip a cross to the back post. There, it would just find a way to meet the head of Shelina Zadorsky, who had timed her jump perfectly to meet the cross, allowing her to thump the ball into the top corner of the goal emphatically.
And with that, it’d give Canada a big lifeline, as they all of a sudden had life to chase a win, something that didn’t seem likely just minutes earlier, showing their resilience to fight back.
But despite that dramatic equalizing goal, the game wouldn’t see much else drama from there, as Canada’s late push for a victory would come up short, leaving both teams to split the spoils.
Yet, despite that, there was a lot to like about how things ended for Canada. Based on how things were trending after that second Nigerian goal, it looked like it was going to be a night of ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ for Canada, who just didn’t seem likely to score.
Instead of being dragged down by that, though, they just kept their heads up and went after it, and were eventually rewarded.
And ahead of World Cup qualifiers, that’s huge to see. As one of the favourites at that tournament, Canada will be expected to make the final, no doubt, but there will still be tough games like this, which is why they wanted a friendly against Nigeria in the first place, knowing that it’d be a good warm-up for that tournament.
So while they’ll hope that they don’t have any moments like this at qualifiers, as in a dream world they’ll achieve their goals without too much fuss, you just know that won’t happen, which makes this reaction to adversity a positive one.
“That mindset is critical,” Priestman said. “You can’t have a group that deflates and doesn’t believe the minute the ball doesn’t go in the back of the net and turns on each other.”
“And I think this team is a together team, they have great belief and they found a way to eventually get the ball in the back of the net.”
Otherwise, it was quite the interesting night for Canada tactically, as while they looked to build off of what they’d been building on in recent games, they were thrown a bit of a wrench into their plans.
Because of that, while Canada stuck to their usual 4-3-1-2 on the ball, they’d put a lot more attacking emphasis on how they played, as well as in their substitutions.
Plus, in possession, they’d often throw their full backs forward, turning the formation into more of a 3-4-3 at times, giving them that extra width.
But from there, while Canada would do well to hold onto the ball and create wide overloads, they’d be unable to turn them into the sort of concrete chances that they were after, as they just couldn’t seemingly find a way to get the ball into any dangerous areas, at least not consistently.
As soon as the ball would get to the final third, Canada were just lacking that killer edge, be it in the sort of passes that they were playing, as well as their intent.
And after looking so sharp in that area in their previous game, that was a big surprise, as it was more of a return to the Canada of old, the one that they were looking to leave behind.
To be fair, credit has to be given to Nigeria, who found a way to defend resiliently all throughout the game, but it was still something that Canada had to be frustrated with, even despite playing a rotated squad, as they just didn’t look themselves on the night.
So while the effort and spirit was there, as reflected in the result, Canada will head back to the drawing board and clean up where they were lacking in this game, allowing them to return to the path that they had started to navigate as of late.
But that’s far from a bad thing quite yet, because while it might be a worry to see Canada take a step back in that regard, sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forward, and with it being so early in the 2023 cycle, this is the moment where you want them to learn these lessons – provided that they do just that.
And seeing how they’ve been as a team under Priestman, who has made a knack of adjusting to errors and getting the most out of this side, you’d back their ability to do that, making it hardly a worry, at least not yet.
“I think overall, I felt that yeah, we look more dynamic,” Priestman said of her team. “And now we’ve got to fine tune and get the rhythm and the right partnerships on the pitch at the right time.”
Now, Canada’s players will head back to their clubs, before reconvening in June for one last dress rehearsal ahead of the qualifiers.
There, they’ll look to schedule two stiff tests, with reports suggesting that a game in Canada could be possible for that, which would be a great opportunity to both prepare and continue to connect with the fans.
And after the camp that they had, is huge. Ultimately, while the results were a mixed bag with the win and the draw (as well as the performances), Canada learned the sort of things that they were hoping to learn in this camp, and did so while making a much-needed return to a west coast fanbase that had been too long without them.
So before heading down to Mexico in July, there’s no reason why Canada can’t continue to make those sorts of connections across Canada while they continue to prepare for that tournament, which should make that June window one to watch.
As Canada continues their road towards the World Cup, it’ll be a very important stop on their journey, especially if this camp is to be any indication, with this last game being a prime example of that.
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer