GRENOBLE, Fra. – Canada keeps chugging away at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
The Canadian team secured its place in the knockout round of the tournament after earning a 2-0 win over New Zealand at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble on Saturday.
Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince provided the goals for Canada, who has won two games to start a World Cup for the first time in team history. Prince also tallied an assist on Fleming’s opening goal.
Canada sits tied with the Netherlands (both on six points) for first place in Group E, although the Dutch hold the tiebreaker because they’ve scored more goals. The Dutch beat Cameroon 3-1 in Valenciennes earlier in the day to also move on to the next round. Canada’s final group-stage game is June 20 against the Netherlands in Reims, a match that will decide who wins the group.
The Canadians have suffered just one loss in their last 16 games, and remain unbeaten in 2019 – seven wins in 10 matches, with just one goal against.
Wins against Cameroon and New Zealand are fine, but tougher challenges are ahead for Canada, namely the Netherlands, who are the reigning European champions. After the Canadians struggled to break down two ultra-defensive sides, it’ll be interesting to see if they can open things up a bit more in the attacking end against the Dutch. One also suspects the Netherlands will ask far tougher questions of a Canadian defence that has yet to a concede a goal at this World Cup.
Canada is fifth in the current FIFA world rankings, 14 spots ahead of New Zealand. Nicknamed the Football Ferns, New Zealand was coming off a stoppage-time loss to the Netherlands, and has yet to record a single World Cup victory. Its record in five tournament appearances now stands at 0-11-3.
Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller made one lineup change, with Jayde Riviere replacing fullback Allysha Chapman in earning her World Cup debut. Riviere, an 18-year-old native of Markham, Ont., was making only her seventh appearance and second start for Canada. With Riviere coming in, Ashley Lawrence shifted from the right over to the left side of defence.
After about 10 minutes, Heiner-Moller switched from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 formation, dropping veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt into defence, and pushing Riviere and Lawrence further up the field.
The Canadians dictated the pace of the game in the first half, enjoying 72 per cent possession and forcing New Zealand to chase shadows. The Reds outshot the Ferns 11-1 through the opening 45 minutes, but managed just two shots on target. Their best scoring chance came off a corner kick when captain Christine Sinclair’s header hit the crossbar, and Kadeisha Buchanan’s headed rebound attempt was cleared off the goal-line.
Canada finally opened up New Zealand’s resolute defence shortly after the re-start. Prince latched on to a ball played over the top by Janine Beckie, scampered down the left side and then pulled the ball back into the middle of the box for Fleming. The Canadian midfielder showed great composure in hitting her short first time to send the ball into the far corner. It was her ninth goal in 68 appearances for her country.
The Reds nearly doubled their advantage moments later when Sinclair side-footed her shot over the crossbar after receiving a great pullback pass from Beckie. Prince forced a fabulous one-handed save from New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler when she connected on flicked header off a pinpoint cross into the box from Sinclair.
Prince wouldn’t be denied, though. Late in the game Lawrence played a cross to the back post for Sinclair, but the Canadian captain’s header hit the post. Nichelle was in the right place at the right time to toe-poke home the rebound and put the final result beyond doubt. It was her 11th goal in 53 international games.
Sinclair remains on 181 goals for Canada, just three away from tying retired U.S. star Abby Wambach as the all-time leading scorer in the history of international women’s soccer.
NOTES: Canada has suffered just one loss to New Zealand in 12 meetings (7-1-4), the lone defeat coming 32 years ago. These teams played to a 0-0 draw in Edmonton during the group stage of the 2015 World Cup…. Central defender Shelina Zadorsky earned her 50th start for Canada on Saturday… Scottish manager Tom Sermanni is in charge of New Zealand, having previously served as an assistant coach for Canada at the last World Cup.
–from Sportsnet’s John Molinaro