Can Canada’s women’s soccer team take home medals in three consecutive Olympics? Can you change the color of the medal this time?
These are just some of the more pertinent questions ahead of the Tokyo Olympics women’s football tournament, which will start next week.
Led by legendary captain Christine Sinclair, Canada has won consecutive bronze medals and a third third in a row would be an unprecedented achievement. But newly installed trainer Bev Priestman has set her goals much higher.
“A team like Canada should be on that podium. I think we have to change the color of the medal. … To move forward, we have to set higher goals,” said Priestman.
Here’s what you need to know about the Tokyo Olympics women’s soccer tournament.
How is the tournament going?
The 12-nation field has been divided into three round robin groups, with the first round running from July 21 to July 27.
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The three groups are:
- Group E: Japan, Canada, Chile and the UK.
- Group F: China, Brazil, Netherlands and Zambia.
- Group G: Sweden, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
The two best teams in each group and the two best third-placed teams in the overall standings will reach the quarter-finals, which begins on July 30th. From there it is a single elimination format up to the bronze medal game (August 5th) and the final (August 6th).
What is Canada’s squad like?
Here is coach Bev Priestman’s 22-man squad. Only 18 players can dress for games.
Goalkeeper: Stephanie Labbé, Kailen Sheridan and Erin McLeod.
Defender: Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman, Ashley Lawrence, Jayde Riviere and Gabrielle Carle.
Midfield player: Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Quinn, Desiree Scott and Sophie Schmidt.
Forward: Janine Beckie, Adriana Leon, Nichelle Prince, Deanne Rose, Christine Sinclair, Evelyne Viens and Jordyn Huitema.
Captain Sinclair (299 caps) is the most experienced member of the Canadian Olympic team and one of five players to have played more than 100 caps. The others are Schmidt (205), Scott (162), McLeod (116) and Buchanan (103).
At the other end of the spectrum are Viens (seven), Gilles (eight), Sheridan (10) and Riviere (21).
A total of 12 players from this Canadian squad were part of the team that won bronze medals in a row in 2012 and 2016, and 15 players returning from the 2019 FIFA World Cup team have returned.
The most notable absence from Canada’s squad is veteran midfielder Diana Matheson, who at the age of 37 announced her retirement due to injury problems in recent years. She won 206 international matches and was a key member of the Canadian team that won bronze medals in succession. Matheson also scored the winning goal against France in the game for third place at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
CLOCK | Christine Sinclair’s epic appearance at the 2012 Olympics:
How heavy is Canada’s group?
In 8th place in the current FIFA world rankings, Canada opened the game in Tokyo on July 21 against Japan in 10th place and on July 24th in 37th place against Chile. Both games take place in Sapporo.
Canada’s team will meet Great Britain in Kashima on July 27th. FIFA does not rate Great Britain, but their team will consist mainly of players from England No. 6, plus some players from Scotland No. 23, Wales No. 34 and Northern Ireland No. 48.
The opening fight is an uphill battle against the hosts for coach Priestman’s team. The Japanese set an all-time record 7-4-3 against the Canadians, including a 2-1 group stage win in the 2012 London Games en route to winning the silver medal. In addition, Japan won 4-0 in their previous meeting on October 6, 2019, giving Canada their biggest loss in seven years.
Two years after taking part in a women’s world championship for the first time, Chile will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The South Americans are led by Christiane Endler, who is considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Chile beat Canada 1-0 at the Torneio Internacional de Futebol Feminino 2013, the only previous meeting between the countries. But that was a long time ago and Canada is widely expected to easily overtake the Chileans.
The first round final against Great Britain will likely determine where Canada lands in Group E and determine their path to the medal podium. Great Britain’s team consists mainly of English players and is coached by England’s interim manager Hege Riise.
England beat hosts Canada in the quarter-finals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup and made it to the semi-finals of the 2019 tournament. But the Lionesses have withdrawn in the past two years, taking only two wins in their last six games. The all-time streak between Canada and England is dead, with seven wins each in 14 games dating back to their first encounter at the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sweden.
Who are the tournament favorites?
The USA are number 1 in the world rankings, and since Germany and France (2nd and 3rd place respectively) could not qualify for the Olympics, the Americans must be considered favorites. The US also aims to become the first team in history to win the World Cup and an Olympic gold medal in a row.
But even if the two-time defending champions are currently unbeaten in 44 games, they have to prove in Tokyo that they were upset in the quarter-finals of the Rio 2016 games against Sweden and did not manage to win a medal. The US is in the same group with Sweden this time around and they haven’t forgotten what happened five years ago.
The Netherlands in 4th place have made great strides over the past ten years and qualified for the World Cup for the first time at the 2015 tournament in Canada. Two years later they won the European Championship and finished second at the 2019 World Cup in France. Now they’re ready to make their Olympic debut by taking a deep run in Tokyo.
Sweden (No. 5) and Brazil (No. 7) both have large squads dotted with players who practice their craft at some of the top clubs in Europe and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Both countries are eager to finally win a gold medal – especially the Swedes, who opted for silver in Rio five years ago.
Who are some of the top players to watch?
England defender Lucy Bronze is reigning FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and has had a sensational club season helping Manchester City finish second in England’s FA Women’s Super League and the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League to reach.
Brazilian Marta Vieira da Silva, who just walks past Marta, is a true legend of the game. She has been named FIFA Player of the Year six times and has scored over 100 goals for her country. But she has never won an Olympic gold medal and at 35 this could be her last chance.
Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema is a goalscorer machine. The 24-year-old star for Arsenal is her country’s all-time top scorer with 73 goals in 96 games and a ruthless finisher.
Rose Lavelle is an exquisite two-way midfielder who can pull the creative strings for the US, while teammate and veteran striker Alex Morgan is a dangerous goalscorer who will lead the attack for the Americans.