It was hardly the most ambitious approach from Canada in its final preliminary round match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and in the end the squad achieved the result that almost seemed tacitly agreed upon with Great Britain.
The two sides finished 1-1 on Tuesday morning, meaning Canada will finish second to Great Britain in the group and face a far more difficult road through the knockout phase of the tournament, beginning with Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Adriana Leon scored the goal for Canada after a glorious run from Ashley Lawrence, but the marker was erased in the 85th minute after Caroline Weir smashed a deflected ball off Nichelle Prince, which bounced beyond Stephanie Labbe and into the corner of the net.
Here are the main takeaways from the game:
Best of both worlds ... nearly
Canadian manager Bev Priestman had one clear mandate heading into this game: manage the heath of those who will factor in Friday's quarterfinal. That meant veterans Christine Sinclair, Desiree Scott and Shelina Zadorsky didn't see the pitch, while Janine Beckie, Jessie Fleming and Prince were half rested, appearing in parts of only one 45-minute interval each.
Of course, these lineup decisions meant that Canada was sacrificing plenty on the pitch. Most notably, Canada's attack did not appear remotely threatening to begin the game with Evelyn Viens in the No. 9 role.
That said, Canada appeared a little more lively when a few changes were made to begin the second half. And as a result of a tremendous run from Lawrence on the right flank — and critical commitment inside the box — the star fullback played a ball into the penalty area that evaded a mess of bodies and landed onto the foot of one of those situational starters, Leon.
Leon's superb left-foot strike put Canada in position to win the game — and the group — after making the conscious decision coming in that securing three points wasn't the top priority.
Unfortunately, Great Britain had Option A in its back pocket, bringing on its own high-profiles reserves to create the pressure needed to secure the equalizer and prevent Canada from achieving that dream result: both essential rest and a preferred path in the knockout phase.
For good reason
In a vacuum, Canada's reluctance to chase this victory is disappointing from a fan's perspective. We wanted to see Priestman's best, and we wanted to see how Priestman's best measured up to one of the top teams in the competition before moving on to the next stage. It's probably best that Canada chose the tactics it did, however, because there seems to be only so many combinations available for Priestman in the pursuit of optimization. Needlessly running Sinclair into the ground, for example, might be enough to completely throw off the balance of this Canadian team when it matters most.
At this point, Canada seems somewhat incomplete from a total team perspective, and requires small concessions within the team to prepare to put out the best starting lineup. Lawrence is the most obvious example of this. Because the team is short on quality fullbacks, and because Lawrence is talented enough to perform out of position, Canada pulled its best player, arguably, out of position to do what she does best on the pitch, which is to dominate in midfield.
Fortunately for Canada, her talent just continues to shine through. But this tweak does well to illustrate the depth of Canada's squad might not measure up to other medal hopefuls. That in itself is reason why we saw the lineup, and tactics, we saw Tuesday morning from Canada.
Or, Priestman just wanted each of her players to experience the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as evidenced by the fact that every member of the squad — including the initial reserves — has seen time on the pitch aside from third netminder Erin McLeod.
Letting it slip
Canada can be real proud of its starts. The team has produced the first goal in all three matches, and when the game state is tied, they have been very, very strong. Protecting leads has been a different story.
Though we should be careful gleaning too much from this performance, a pattern has emerged as Canada has failed to keep a clean sheet for a third time in as many matches, conceding in the minutes after initially establishing a lead. Twice that has resulted in Canada coughing up the chance at three points, while against Chile the Canadians had built up enough cushion to absorb the inevitable goal against.
It's not one thing that's contributing to this; the mistakes were minimal versus all three opponents. But Canada must find a way to adapt to the natural changes in game play that result when the opponent is suddenly chasing the game.
Even with a different personnel mix, holding the lead versus Great Britain would have been a huge boost in confidence. Instead Canada will have to continue mulling over those late-game failures in the lead-up to Friday's elimination clash versus Brazil.
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