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The Canadian women’s national soccer team flexed their defensive muscle again Friday in their final tune-up match for the upcoming 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
Canada posted another shutout in a 0-0 tie against host Spain in the northern Spanish town of Logrono. It was the eighth time in nine matches this year — including a training match against Switzerland — Canada has not conceded a goal, and it kept their undefeated record intact heading into the World Cup.
Canada open their World Cup tournament on June 10 against Cameroon in Montpellier, before taking on New Zealand on June 15 in Grenoble and then concluding their Group E play June 20 against European champions Netherlands in Reims.
Spain also qualified for the tournament and are in a group with Germany, China and South Africa.
Despite not scoring, the tie was another positive result for Canada, who are peaking heading into the tournament where they are considered contenders for the title.
“I think it’s awesome right now,” said defender Rebecca Quinn, following Canada’s 3-0 victory against Mexico in their sendoff match this past Saturday in Toronto. “Just looking at this year alone and the results we’ve gotten this year, have been huge. So I think we’ve built a lot of confidence as a group. We’re enjoying our football and working really hard as well, it’s a good connection.”
Not surprisingly for the final pre-tournament game for Canada and second-last for Spain, both sides took a cautious approach to the contest, not wanting to pick up an injury this close to the start of the tournament.
The eighth instalment of the Women’s World Cup begins on June 7 with France taking on South Korea in Paris.
‘We’re really confident right now’
Canada is sending, arguably, their most talented squad to the World Cup.
Their best result at the tournament was a fourth-place finish in 2003 in the United States, losing to Sweden in the semifinal.
In France, Canada is aiming for at least another semifinal berth and a shot at major tournament final for the first time in their history, which includes back-to-back Olympic bronze medals.
While the focus heading into France is on veteran striker Christine Sinclair and her quest to become the most prolific international goal scorer in the history of the game, now just four away from the record, the strength of the Canadian team is in defence.
They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Stephanie Labbe and one of the most formidable back lines in the women’s game.
There is a reason the only goal Canada has conceded this year was in a 2-1 win against African champions Nigeria in an exhibition game in Spain this past April. The win came three days after defeating England 1-0 in Manchester.
“It’s amazing to play behind that team, they make my job so easy,” said Labbe, who did not have a difficult save to make against Spain. “It’s definitely a connection thing, everyone knows that when our defenders step out and step in front for a tackle, they’re going to have cover behind them. They’re free to go in with full effort and they don’t have to hesitate when they’re going in with full tackles.”
Anchored by center back Kadeisha Buchanan — who did not play in Toronto as she was winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League title with her club team Lyon that day, but was back against Spain — Canada’s defence has evolved into a group as comfortable playing the ball out from the back as they are winning a tackle.
Undefeated since October
Spain were unable to generate much of anything against Canada on Friday, particularly in the second half where the visitors generated most of the chances.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get there and it’s taken a lot of platform building and confidence in each other,” Quinn said. “We work really hard to set different platforms against different opposition and everyone has to be really comfortable on the ball and I think we’ve come a long way in that and it definitely helps our forwards get on the ball as well, because we need to start the attack for our team.”
Canada has not lost since they were defeated in the final of the CONCACAF Championship 2-0 to the United States in October, which served as a World Cup qualifier. If things go according to plan in France, they would avoid the United States, the defending champions, until the final.
Canada finished the year with six wins and three ties in their nine matches leading into the tournament. Head coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller has utilized his depth throughout the buildup to the World Cup and still needs to name his official 23-player roster for the tournament.
“It’s fun to see the different dynamics between different players,” Labbe said. “Everybody brings something different, different type of offence, but it seems as though every time someone brings something different, we keep that defensive shape and no one can break it down.”
The only negative for Canada heading into France is not having veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod and midfielder Diana Matheson available due to injury. Despite missing two of their most experienced players, Canada is going into the tournament as confident as they’ve ever been heading into a major international tournament.
“It’s definitely a good feeling that we’ve had some good results,” Labbe said. “I think the big thing for us is to continue to keep to the process and not get too excited about the highs, but continue to keep grinding and continue to work on the things that we need to improving on, because the World Cup is a different beast. You’re going to have to bring a different type of threat to the game, there are going to be different pressures and performances are going to falter a bit in different areas, so we’re going to have to keep tight and keep focusing on the present moment and not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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