On September 30 at BMO Field, Canada’s 3-1 victory over China was a promising display of what Carolina Morace’s team is capable of executing. The long ball game and rigid player roles of Even Pellerud and Canada’s past were replaced by a free flowing squad who held possession with quick passes and attacked aggressively.
Lining up in a 4-3-3, Canada didn’t hesitate to test China’s backline right from the get-go. Just 6 seconds into the game, forward Josée Bélanger got into the final third to set up Kaylyn Kyle, but Kyle’s chip bounced harmlessly into the box.
In the 2nd minute of play, Bélanger hustled down the right wing again and won a corner kick after the ball deflected off a Chinese defender. Diana Matheson served a high arching ball into the box that Christine Sinclair headed on target, but was cleared out of bounds by #2 Liu Huana on the near post.
Canada’s second ensuing corner kick turned into China’s advantage instead. After pinging around in the air, a heavy touch by Marie-Even Nault allowed China to play a 20 yard through ball to an unmarked #8 Xu Yuan for a breakaway opportunity. The Canadians were caught playing a high defensive line and could only retreat as they watched Karina LeBlanc tip the shot over the bar.
China’s first corner kick of the match in the 4th minute was played short, and Bélanger was there to intercept. It was difficult for China to gain any sort of rhythm with Canada constantly stepping in to challenge their passes. Kyle was a bully in the midfield and had a great sequence early on in the game with about 4 or 5 interceptions in the span of a minute, all on different parts of the pitch.
The Canadian defence had their fair share of interceptions as well. At one point, Candace Chapman stepped high in the midfield to cut off a through ball, and Carmelina Moscato‘s pass sparked an attack with Matheson and Melissa Tancredi playing one touch passes to one another to advance the ball while making good use of space. This was one of Canada’s many attacks throughout the night that displayed the possession-oriented and quick passing style that Morace has been trying to implement since taking over the team in early 2009.
The 3 Canadian forwards interchanged positions throughout the match. They began with Tancredi on the left, Sinclair in the middle, and Bélanger on the right. “Yeah, we’re rotating all over the place up top,” said Sinclair of the team’s attacking style. She continued, “[Morace] wants movement, creativity and unpredictability, whereas before, under Even, it was very rigid and we had our set positions. This is a lot more interesting game to play under Carolina.”
A dangerous opportunity came in the 18th minute when Kyle weaved around 2 Chinese players and sent a long pass to Sinclair, who’d switched to the left side. Sinclair showed incredible speed as she exploded past her marker and into space. She collected the ball and served in a perfectly placed cross that met the head of a diving Tancredi, who was streaking in from the right side. The shot went just wide of the net.
The opening goal in the 22nd minute began with a sliding tackle by central defender Emily Zurrer. From the centre circle, Matheson touched the ball to Tancredi on the right, who one touched it to Sinclair in the middle and played the ball into the box for Matheson, who’d hustled up the pitch. Matheson’s initial right footed shot from the 18 was blocked by the ‘keeper. Sinclair chested down the ball and played it back to a wide open Matheson, who shifted side to side and faked out the defenders to launch the ball into the back of the net with her left foot.
Canada continued to pressure, but once China was finally in possession, they slowed down the pace of the game while patiently and methodically passing around the ball. On one hand, China’s passing game had the Canadians chasing for a little while. But, on the other hand, the Chinese lived dangerously with too many passes among the backline. Canada pounced on those opportunities, one of which was an interception at the top of the box that set up Sinclair, but the shot was deflected out for another Canadian corner kick.
The Chinese players controlled the ball well within tight spaces. China got their second shot on goal in the 38th minute when a bad Canadian clearance bounced around to Xu Yuan, who quickly turned to get a shot off that barely went over the crossbar.
I could be mistaken, but the potentially dangerous Chinese left winger that I pointed out in the pre-game article is #24 Gu Yasha. For the most part, her crosses were easily dealt with by the 5’9″ Zurrer. In the 42nd minute, Xu Yuan displayed her 1v1 skills again, this time near the end line against Chapman and held on to the ball to set up Gu Yasha. Her cross forced LeBlanc to come off her line and punch it away, but the ball landed to #6 Zhang Na, whose bouncing shot from 35 yards out slipped through the hands and legs of LeBlanc. The score was tied 1-1.
Nearing the end of half time, Canada continued to dominate the play and pressured again from the right side. Following a throw in, the Chinese fullback #5 Weng Xinzhi slipped on the pitch, turning the ball over to Bélanger. Her pass to Tancredi deflected off #14 Li Danyang.
Perhaps energized by the late goal, China returned in the second half of play looking more dangerous. Just two minutes in, one touch passing in the midfield sets up Gu Yasha to serve in a cross that skipped across the Canadian box. After punching out the initial shot, LeBlanc was able to smother the ball.
Despite getting more attacking opportunities in the second half, China was unable to put anything away. Xu Yuan got a shot off in the 53rd minute that went just wide. Six minutes later, a Chinese free kick near the centre circle resulted in a header on target by Li Danyang, but LeBlanc is there to grab it out of the air.
In the 62nd minute, a Canadian free kick sent the ball into the final third. Desiree Scott, who entered the game less than a minute earlier to replace Moscato, collected the ball and headed towards the goal, but the Chinese defender was one step ahead to clear. The ensuing throw in allowed Scott a second opportunity to attack, but she was shouldered to the ground by Gu Yasha in the box. No penalty kick was given and a chorus of “boos” ensued.
Things finally picked up for the Canadians with LeBlanc‘s goal kick in the 65th minute. Bélanger began the attack by settling the ball to Kyle and she switched the play to the right side of the field to full back, Rhian Wilkinson. In a sequence quite similar to the build up to Canada’s first goal between Sinclair and Matheson, Wilkinson and Scott exchanged one-two passes as Wilkinson ran from the midfield into China’s final third. She collected the bouncing ball and played it square to Tancredi, who poked in the ball as she was falling over. The Chinese ‘keeper barely reacted and Tancredi put Canada ahead 2-1.
Just 3 minutes later, Sinclair blasted a shot at the near post to secure Canada’s victory. After falling to the ground as she was unable to corral the Canadian throw in, Sinclair got up in time to head up the pitch as the 66th minute substitute, Kara Lang, played the ball to Bélanger, who one touched it to Sinclair for her 102 Senior goal.
Canada got a scare in the 72nd minute, as the Chinese were able to slow down the game and work the ball up the field from their backline. A Canadian player on the left side was beaten and the Chinese sent in a low cross that, once again, trickled dangerously across the box, but Chapman and Wilkinson were there to slow down the oncoming Chinese forwards.
Similar to the first half, the Chinese defenders were burned once again by their passing near their own goal when Kyle intercepted a ball just outside of the box in the 77th minute. She sent the shot from a tight angle into the side netting. Nearing the end of regulation, a miss hit by a Chinese defender almost set up substitute Christina Julien for a breakaway, but the ball eventually rolled out of bounds.
In the end, the inexperience and youth of China’s team was unable to deal with the improved attack of Canada. The Chinese players in the starting line up were mostly born between 1985 and 1990. Liu Huana provided veteran presence in the backline as the eldest player in the starting XI at age 29, while Li Danyang, #19 Qu Shanshan and Gu Yasha are only 20 years old. This was the official match debut of Chinese coach Li Xiaopeng after being on the job for approximately a month.
The biggest changes in Canada was their ability to advance up the field as an entire unit to bring numbers into the attack, while making quick passes and decisions. Movement such as this was clearly missing during their previous match against China on April 24, 2010. In that 2-0 loss, Canada often sent one player into the attack and had no passing options. They were also predictable with most, if not all, attacks ending with ineffective crosses in the air. This time around, Canada was confident and in control of the game.
In their final official match before the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifiers, Canada impressed their home fans with the best movement and passing that the team has ever shown. “Of course victories are important,” said Morace, “but what we want to do is play well.”
After a weekend of rest, Canada will regroup at Nottawasaga Inn & Resort in Alliston, Ontario to train from October 4 to the 14 before heading to Cancun, Mexico. Training sessions are open to fans and media alike.
Canada will face Trinidad & Tobago in their opening game of the World Cup Qualifiers on Friday, October 29. They will then face off against Guyana and Mexico on October 31 and November 2 respectively. The semi-finals will be played on Friday, November 5 with the Finals commencing on Monday, November 8. The full schedule is now available on the CONCACAF website.
As reported earlier, Canada will head into residency camp sometime in the near future if they qualify for the 2011 WWC. Additionally, qualification also presents the potential of playing 2 home games leading up to the WWC, which runs from June 26 to July 17. There’s a strong possibility that at least one of those friendlies will be played in Vancouver. Canada will host Germany in the latter half of 2011 as both teams prepare for the 2012 London Olympics. Finally, the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers will take place in Canada.
-#13 Ma Jun had a bit of a temperamental night. During the match, she and Moscato got tangle up and Ma retaliated by giving her a kick. Ma was booked for an earlier offence when she pushed over a Canadian as she was running for a ball. When she was substituted off in the 55th minute, she headed straight into the tunnel.
-Matheson had a great game. The commentators referred to her as the “Little spark plug”. Cute!
-Morace was vocal throughout the night, but still allowed her team to play their game. She’d shout instructions during stoppages of play by simply calling a player’s name and giving a few key words.
-I’m definitely not a kid-friendly person, but the cheery kids in the crowd were pretty adorable. They repeatedly chanted “Let’s go, Canada, let’s go” and “This is our House”. They also had what I think is an original rendition of a chant that started with “Extra, extra. Read all about it!” The Chinese fans got into it as well shouting, “Jia yao”. It’s a phrase that literally translates into “add oil”, a supportive chant to urge their team to continue on.
-What was missing from the stadium atmosphere was definitely the rowdy adult fans that filled the south side during the Canada vs. US game last year.
-Given that the match was played on a school night, the fact that tickets didn’t go on sale until September 1, and a world of other possibilities, only 5,427 showed up. 10,255 attended Canada vs. USA, while 13,554 watched Canada vs. Brazil, all of which were played at BMO Field.
-Yup, game night was cold! Quite a few fans actually wore mittens.
-The Chinese coach, Li Xiaopeng, offered kind words for Canada. “I really hope the Canadian Women’s Team will be able to go far in their World Cup journey,” he said.
-The Tancredi clan was well represented. There was a poster that read, “I <3 Tancredi Women”. Her Dad had, like, 3 Canadian flags and he wore a hardhat with the lettering, “Proud Dad of #14”.
-The players didn’t leave until well over an hour or hour and a half after the match ended. They signed autographs, and Morace even got into the action and signed a few autographs herself.
-One security guard was asking his buddies why it was taking so long for everyone to board the bus. The other security guard told him about the autographs, “Yup, they do. Every last one gets signed.” Clearly, that guy’s has never worked a women’s soccer game before.
Canada vs. China
Thursday, September 30, 2010 – BMO Field (Toronto)
Canada: 3 (1)
Matheson (Sinclair) 22′, Tancredi (Wilkinson) 65′, Sinclair (Belanger) 68′
China: 1 (1)
Zhang Na (Liu Huana) 42′
Head Coach: Carolina Morace
#1 GK Karina LeBlanc, #20 D Marie-Eve Nault, #2 D Emily Zurrer, #9 D Candace Chapman, #7 D Rhian Wilkinson,
#8 M Diana Matheson (#19 Brooke McCalla, 85′), #4 M Carmelina Moscato (#24 F Desiree Scott, 61′), #6 M Kaylyn Kyle (#16 RB Chelsea Stewart, 81′),
#14 F Melissa Tancredi (#15 F Kara Lang, 66′), #12 F Christine Sinclair, #13 F Josée Bélanger (#10 F Christina Julien, 74)
Head Coach: Li Xiaopeng
#1 GK Zhang Yanru; #2 D Liu Huana, #5 D Weng Xinzhi, #14 D Li Danyang, #17 D Pang Fengyue (#4 M Xu Wenjia, 49′),
#6 M Zhang Na (#35 M Hou Xuecheng, 52′), #15 M Sun Ling, #19 M Qu Shanshan, #24 M Gu Yasha (#11 M You Jia, 65′),
#8 F Xu Yuan (#20 D Zhou Gaoping, 80′), #13 F Ma Jun (#12 F Zhang Jieli, 55′)
#13 Ma Jun (CHN) Yellow card (35′)
#2 Liu Huana (CHN) Yellow card (41′)
Referee: Darci Kruse (CAN)
Assistants: Suzanne Morisset (CAN), Marie- Josee Charbonneau (CAN), Carol Anne Chenard (CAN)