GRENOBLE, France — After months of preparation, Canada was able to get over its first hurdle at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup by winning their opening match against Cameroon in Montpellier on Monday.
It was the first time Canada has won a World Cup opener in a foreign country and it sets them up well for their remaining two Group E games against New Zealand here on Saturday and the Netherlands in Reims the following Thursday.
While the 1-0 win may not have looked impressive on the scoreboard, it was actually a strong performance from Canada, who are considered title contenders as the No. 5-ranked team in the world.
Canada were able to overcome some anxious moments early on and pulled out a victory against an opponent intent on just surviving. A tie would have made it difficult for Canada to win the group, while a loss would have been disastrous.
Here are three observations from Canada’s World Cup opener.
1. Veterans a calming influence
Christine Sinclair, who turns 36 Tuesday and became the oldest player to ever play in a World Cup game for Canada, Desiree Scott, 31, Sophie Schmidt, 30, and Allysha Chapman, 30, all played well and held the squad together in the early, nervy moments of the first half.
Canada had four players starting their first World Cup game — Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince, Shelina Zadorsky and Stephanie Labbe.
Schmidt and Scott dominated in midfield, while Sinclair was her usual threat up front and Chapman was a rock at left back, winning tackle after tackle against Cameroon’s two swift forwards, Ajara Nchout and Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene.
Chapman’s recovery speed was particularly impressive able to win back the ball after she appeared to have been beaten on a number of occasions.
“She had a terrific game,” said Canada head coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller. “In matches like these, the Chapmans and the Desiree Scotts are who can win you the momentum of the game, they’re not afraid of a tackle, they’re not backing down from anything physical and (Monday) she had a very good performance attacking-wise as well.”
2. Prince needs to find net
Prince is a quick, strong striker who seems as comfortable blowing around an opponent as she is going through one. The 24-year-old, who plays for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, has an outstanding ability to get into good scoring positions, but has yet to become a ruthless finisher for Canada.
Against Cameroon, Prince had a pair of outstanding scoring chances and was unable to keep a volley down on one and hit the outside of the post with another.
With so much attention being payed to Sinclair, who is four goals from becoming the most prolific international goal scorer of all time – men or women – Canada is going to need Prince to start burying some of those opportunities, particularly later in the tournament when they are harder to come by.
“She’s got very good movement (off the ball) and movement that is easy to read for her teammates,” Heiner-Moller said. “She got in behind the back line a few times, either she was played in or went in herself. I know she wants that goal very bad and she almost had it with a little chip over the goalkeeper, it was a beautiful touch. I know she wants to have that goal in soon, so hopefully it’ll happen in the next match.”
Prince admitted to being a little nervous at the start in her first World Cup, but settled in well and was one of the most dangerous players on the field as Cameroon surrounded Sinclair, playing with five defenders.
“It was the first game and it was good to get the first result,” Prince said. “Hopefully, in the next game we can be a little bit more calm and go into the rest of this tournament being confident and strong.”
3. Janine Beckie will emerge a World Cup star
Anyone who has seen Cristiano Ronaldo play live can see similarities in his and Beckie’s game.
They are both among the fittest and fastest players on the field and can cover an impressive amount of ground.
Beckie, 24, looked a bit nervous at the start, but would have given Canada the lead in the first half had her shot from the top of the 18-yard-box been hit a little straighter and not bent just wide of the goal post.
Beckie is an extremely talented player and is a threat to defenders each time she decides to take them on. Playing her up front with the freedom to roam all over the field is the best place for Beckie with Canada as she doesn’t see enough of the ball when isolated on the wing.
Beckie is also extremely accurate taking set pieces, as showcased by the lone goal Canada scored off her corner to the far post, which defender Kadeisha Buchanan sailed in to head home.
Born to Canadian parents in the United States, Beckie played with Manchester City in England this past season, which seems to have taken her game to another level.
“I loved it, it prepared me for this tournament and that was my goal going in,” Beckie said. “I thought I got a lot better over the course of the season and, obviously, winning two trophies (FA Cup, League Cup) over the course of the season wasn’t too bad either.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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