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.
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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.
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.
She also said fullback/midfielder Ashley Lawrence had been contending with a minor injury and will miss the games.
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.”
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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.
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.”
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Published at Fri, 22 Oct 2021 08:00:00 +0000