Canadian women’s soccer reunites for Celebration Tour as squad begins looking ahead

Canadian women’s soccer reunites for Celebration Tour as squad begins looking ahead

Three months after winning gold in Tokyo, the Canadian women’s soccer team is finally getting a chance to reunite at home and celebrate their Olympic success with their fans.

Canada’s pair of international friendlies against New Zealand on Oct. 23 at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium and Oct. 26 at Stade Saputo in Montreal has been dubbed the team’s “Celebration Tour,” with games in other Canadian cities expected to be announced in the future.

This is an important homecoming for a Canadian squad who has been idle since the Tokyo Olympics, and who last played on home soil on May 18, 2019. Since then, the Reds have played 29 matches across all competitions, but all of them have been on the road.

These games against New Zealand give the team’s loyal supporters a chance to finally see their Olympic heroes in the flesh and reconnect with them. For the players, it’s an opportunity to bask in their achievement, and be properly fêted as conquering heroes after being away from home for so long.

WATCH | Canadian women win soccer gold medal at Tokyo 2020:

Canada’s women’s soccer team makes history with Olympic gold

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After back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games, Canada’s women’s soccer team had the biggest moment in its history, defeating Sweden for Olympic gold. 2:59

All 22 members of the gold-medal team have been called up by coach Bev Priestman, but this two-game series is about much more than a celebration of Canada’s victory in Japan. It’s also about preparing for next year’s CONCACAF W Championship, which serves as the region’s qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The four semifinalists from the eight-nation tournament qualify for the World Cup, while the winner will also book their spot at the Olympics. The runner-up and third-place side will meet in a playoff series to see who also goes to Paris.

Time is ticking down, and there’s not that much time between now and next July 9 when the CONCACAF W Championship kicks off. The realities of the global pandemic make it challenging for national teams to schedule games or even get together, so that’s why these friendlies against New Zealand are so important for Canada to play ahead of next summer’s qualifying tournament.

In these uncertain times, any matches you can play are a bonus, and you have to take full advantage of them.

Future vs. Now

It’s a fact not lost on Priestman. She has called in four additional players into her squad, and who will use these games and future contests to decide which newcomers to incorporate into the roster going forward and which veterans will have to make way.

“It’s what I’m sort of torn between. Because we’ve got the celebration, we’ve got the 22 players that were right there to make that gold happen, and then the other part in my mind is, [who are] the players needed in the future to win, and it’s not always the same. So, it’s a real balancing act of future vs. now,” Priestman explained.

Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles added: “The World Cup seems like a far away goal, but at the end of the day, with the very limited time we’re going to have together up to the World Cup, we can’t take anything for granted, so the preparation starts [now].

“We will all take the time to celebrate … but then you need to flip the switch and focus on the next game at hand. That’s what we’re going to do against New Zealand.”

WATCH | Sinclair, Labbé discuss winning Olympic gold medal in Tokyo:

Christine Sinclair, Stephanie Labbé on winning Olympic gold

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Canadian soccer stars Christine Sinclair and Stephanie Labbé talk to Ian Hanomansing about their gold-medal win in Tokyo and what it means for the sport. 6:37

Canada is sixth in the current FIFA world rankings, while New Zealand is 23rd, so on paper this appears to be a bit of a mis-match. But don’t let the gap in the rankings fool you. New Zealand has competed in the last four World Cups and the previous four Olympics, reaching the quarter-finals at London 2012.

The two nations squared off at the previous two World Cups and they were both tight contests: a scoreless draw in 2015 in Edmonton, and Canada winning 2-0 in France in 2019.

What’s more, New Zealand is slated to co-host the 2023 World Cup with Australia, so these friendlies are a chance for their team to get some competitive games in as it prepares for the big tournament in two years’ time.

Also, considering Canada’s rather lacklustre track record at the World Cup — four first-round exits in seven appearances, with a single semifinal showing in 2003 — it can’t afford to rest on its laurels, which gives these games even more relevance ahead of next summer’s qualifying competition.

“The gold medal isn’t the end of the story. Hopefully, it’s just the beginning. What comes next is the World Cup, and I think what’s been deceiving is that Canada has historically done well at [the] Olympics and then we flip to the World Cup and it’s been a letdown,” Gilles said.

“That’s something we hope to address and that preparation obviously starts [now] against New Zealand.”

WATCH | Sinclair saluted by Portland fans after golden return to club play:

Christine Sinclair receives ‘golden’ ovation from home crowd in return for Portland Thorns

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After winning Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020 for Canada, Christine Sinclair entered the Women’s International Champions Cup final to a loud ovation. 0:55

Published at Fri, 22 Oct 2021 08:00:00 +0000