That title has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The Canadian Women’s National Team captured the top prize at the XVI Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico by defeating Brazil in dramatic fashion. Following a come-from-behind 1-1 draw in regulation and a scoreless overtime, Canada struck gold with penalty kicks, 4-3.
Twenty year-old Debora opened the scoring just 4 minutes into the match. The Brazilian striker headed towards three Canadian defenders and was given an excess of space to dribble up field before unleashing a top corner beauty from outside the box.
Canada was able to stay in the game thanks to a series of critical saves by Karina LeBlanc, especially late in regulation time when Brazil began peppering the Canadian net. Brazil outshot Canada 22-13, while Canada maintained 57% of possession.
As the clock ticked away, it appeared that Brazil was on its way to claiming another PanAm gold medal. However, like the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarter-finals against the USA, Brazil was undone late in the game by an equalizer off a header. This time it was at the mercy of Christine Sinclair being her usual clutch self. Canada won a corner kick in the 88th minute and Diana Matheson sent in a perfectly struck ball. Sinclair circled around goalkeeper Barbara to head it in with ease and forced the game into overtime.
But 30 minutes was not enough to break the deadlock between the teams, so the dreaded, heart wrenching penalty kicks were to settle the score.
Matheson converted the first Canadian PK with confidence, as did Francielle for Brazil. Upon the second round, Barbara was in a rage when she got a glove on Sinclair’s shot, but it wasn’t enough to keep it out of the net. Maurine and Melanie Booth were both successful in their respective shots from the mark. Canada took the lead following Brazil’s third PK when Grazielle placed her attempt up the middle for an easy stop by LeBlanc. Sophie Schmidt put Canada ahead once again and Ketlen answered back. It was 4-3 heading into the fifth set of PKs; things got momentarily tense for Canada while Brazil saw a glimmer of hope when Candace Chapman’s strike rattled the right sided post. The next kicker, Debora, had an opportunity to play hero for Brazil once again if she could tie up the results, but LeBlanc guessed the right direction to make her second PK save and secure first place.
The win marks Canada’s first PanAm gold in women’s soccer, and John Herdman’s first tournament win since taking over the team in September. Canada previusly claimed fourth (1999), second (2003) and third place (2007) since the sport was included in the PanAm Games 12 years earlier. Brazil had won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2007, and with the absence of any US team, it appeared to be theirs for the taking. Alas, it was yet another second place finish (see: the Women’s World Cup, Olympic Games and Torneio Internacional Cidade de São Paulo).
2015 will be a marquee year for the Canadian Women’s National Team with the Women’s World Cup being staged across Canada from June 26-July 17 and PanAm Toronto July 10-26. The overlap makes it highly unlikely that the senior team will be able to defend their title as the reigning PanAm Women’s Soccer champions. But with that aside, the build up in the next 4 years will be exciting times for the sport in the country. Whether it’ll be about seeking World Cup redemption or potentially instilling confidence in our youth team to represent us at the PanAms in place of the full squad, it’s all taking place in Canada. There’s no better feeling than playing (and winning) on home soil, right?
How the 2011 PanAm Games played out for Canada
Even before the actual competition began, the opening ceremony was already a highlight for Canadian Women’s Soccer as captain Christine Sinclair was chosen by the Canadian Olympic Committee as the Canadian flag bearer.
The team opened the tournament on October 18 against Costa Rica with a 3-1 victory. Shirley Cruz netted the loan Costa Rican goal off a debatable penalty kick in the 27th minute when Lauren Sesselmann was whistled for a foul on Raquel Rodríguez Cedeño. Christina Julien answered back about a minute later when she volleyed in Kelly Parker’s shot (it was a beauty!). Canada took the lead when Sinclair showed great technique to settle the ball while in stride and slip it past the sliding ‘keeper. Amélia Pietrangelo then netted her first international goal from a tight angle in the 82nd minute off a throughball by Parker. Watch Canada vs. Costa Rica highlights.
The second game against Argentina witnessed both sides having plenty of scoring opportunities despite Canada controlling 61% of possession. Within the opening 10 minutes of play, the result of an Argentinan corner kick was cleared off the line by Parker. Julien scored the decisive goal for a 1-0 victory at the beginning of the second half after Sinclair squared the ball and Julien beat the ‘keeper. Herdman wasn’t afraid of giving opportunities to younger players throughout the tournament. Goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands earned her first cleansheet while playing all 90 minutes in her first senior cap. Another youngster, Pietrangelo, who received praises from previous head coach Carolina Morace, got her second career start. Watch Canada vs. Argentina highlights.
Group B action was capped off by a 0-0 draw between Canada and Brazil. Being even on wins and goal differentials, lots were drawn following regulation time. Brazil was named the winner of the group while Canada finished in second to set up semi-final matchups against Mexico and Colombia respectively.
The final scoreline against Colombia in the semi-finals wasn’t determined until the dying minutes of the match. Colombia’s shooting was off target for much of the night, sending their opportunities just wide of the net. Their goalkeeper made several key saves against Julien and Sinclair, and Canada was unable to take advantage of scrambles in the box. Half-time substitute Kaylyn Kyle made an instant impact. Sinclair dribbled up the left side before centering the ball. Julien dummied it to Kyle to set up a well placed shot from the top of the box. 1-0 Canada at 48 minutes. A Canadian foul late in the game allowed Colombia a free kick about 30 yards from the net. Catalina Usme’s initial strike was blocked by Parker, but Usme’s well taken follow up beat the scrambling wall and LeBlanc to tie the game 1-1 in the 82nd minute. On the brink of 90 minutes, second half substitute Robyn Gayle took the most opportune time to score her first international goal. Sesselmann’s free kick from distance eluded a couple Canadian players before falling to Gayle; she chested down the ball and volleyed in the game winner, 2-1 Canada. Watch Canada vs. Colombia highlights.
In the other semi-final match, Maurine booked Brazil’s ticket to the gold medal game in the 79th minute with a low driven shot, and effectively sent Mexico to the third place game. Later, Mexico secured the bronze medal with a 1-0 overtime win against Colombia. Lupita Worbis and Maribel Dominguez had scoring opportunities for Mexico, but were unable to convert. The crossbar denied them 15 minutes into the second half, while Colombia’s Romero later sent her shot above the crossbar. Jennifer Ruiz finally scored the winning goal in the 100th minute with a ball sent in from a corner kick.
The initial 17 player roster named at the beginning of October for the PanAms didn’t include those playing professionally in Sweden at the time, including Stephanie Labbé, Erin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato, Melissa Tancredi and Emily Zurrer. Youngsters and newcomers were several notable players in camp. Midfielder Diamond Simpson and defender Vanessa Legault-Cordisco, both 18, and goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands, 17, also got a look and were named to the final roster. Forward Amélia Pietrangelo, 18, was later added to replace an injured Brittany Timko. Centre back Shannon Woeller, 21, has since made only 9 appearances for the senior squad, but she was one of three Canadians to play every minute of every game at the PanAms. Chapman and Parker were the other two players with that honour. With Marie Eve-Nault out since the late summer/early fall due to injury, the 28 year-old recent callup Sesselmann has since been anchoring the left back position. Further, all 18 players named to the final PanAm roster saw playing time.
In other CanWNT news
Canada will regroup for a closed door friendly against Sweden November 22 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Unfortunately, Canada will not be hosting Germany for a friendly this fall as announced last year. Richard Scott of the Canadian Soccer Association confirmed that recent circumstances have changed the needs of both teams. Herdman recently replaced Morace as Canada’s head coach upon her sudden departure following the WWC, and Germany doesn’t require such a rigorous training/playing schedule as they were unable to secure a spot in the 2012 London Olympics as a result of their quarter-final WWC exit.
2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying matches and dates were announced earlier this week. Canada will take on Haiti, Cuba and Costa Rica in Group A, while the USA, Mexico, Guatemala and Dominican Republic will compete in Group B for one of two CONCACAF spots at the 2012 London Olympics. Olympic Qualifiers will be based in Vancouver, British Columbia from January 19-29 at BC Place Stadium. Individual session tickets went on sale this morning. Local soccer clubs in BC can purchase discounted group ticket packages and may even have an opportunity to be ball retrievers at the tournament. Visit http://canadasoccer.com/news/viewArtical.asp?Press_ID=5104 and Ticketmaster.ca (search: women’s Olympic qualifying) for more details.
2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Schedule (All times are PST)
Thursday, 19 January
17.00 Costa Rica v Cuba
19.30 Canada v Haiti
Friday, 20 January
17.00 Mexico v Guatemala
19.30 Dominican Rep v USA
Saturday, 21 January
17.00 Haiti v Costa Rica
19.30 Canada v Cuba
Sunday, 22 January
14.00 Mexico v Dominican Republic
16.30 USA v Guatemala
Monday, 23 January
17.00 Cuba v Haiti
19.30 Canada v Costa Rica
Tuesday, 24 January
17.00 Guatemala v Dominican Republic
19.30 USA v Mexico
Friday, 27 January
17.00 Semi-final #1
20.00 Semi-final #2
Sunday, 29 January
17.00 Winner Semi-final #1 v Winner Semi-final #2
In conjunction with tournament details, the CSA also announced the “Made for This” promotional campaign, which “aims at highlighting the strength and commitment of the players in their quest of becoming a top soccer player.” The first instalment of the campaign features Sinclair:
Happy Belated Birthday to Christine’s Mom! PanAm gold is one heck of a present!