Canada secures Olympic qualification for 4th straight time
Jordyn Huitema scored tournament-leading 7th goal for Canada
The Canadian women’s team is Tokyo bound.
Canada booked its spot at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics after a hard-fought 1-0 over Costa Rica on Friday evening in Carson, California in the semifinals of the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament.
Costa Rica put up a stern resistance before 18-year-old forward Jordyn Huitema scored with 19 minutes left in regulation to propel Canada to the slim victory.
“Costa Rica made it difficult, but we dominated, we finally got one, and we were so solid defensively that we weren’t going to give one up after that,” Canadian captain Christine Sinclair said.
Canada will make its fourth consecutive trip to the Olympics, having previously won bronze medals in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio. The Reds reached the quarter-finals of the 2008 Games in Beijing after failing to qualify of the Athens Olympics in 2004.
“We want to be on the podium again (in Tokyo), and I do think we have the team for it,” Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller told reporters after the game.
By virtue of this win, Canada also advances to the Concacaf tournament final on Sunday in Carson where they’ll meet the United States, who beat Mexico 4-0 in Friday’s other semifinal.
Canada, eighth in the current FIFA world rankings, is a perfect 14-0-0 vs. Costa Rica (No. 37) in the all-time series between the two nations. The Canadians have outscored the Costa Ricans 46-6 during this run, which dates back to their first meeting on April 16, 1991.
This Canadian side has now posted four consecutive clean sheet wins at this qualifying tournament, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 23-0. Nine different players have scored for Canada, including Huitema, who leads the tournament with seven goals.
“We have so many skillful players that we are able to rotate our starting players and keep everyone fresh, so come game time everyone is able to really perform and come out at 100 percent,” Huitema said. “I think it really showed tonight how fresh, versatile and hungry our team was as we just pushed until that last whistle.”
While Costa Rica gave the Canadians their toughest test at this tournament, a much stronger opponent awaits them in the final in the form of the U.S., the reigning World Cup champions and No. 1 ranked team in the world.
Canada has lost to the U.S. in the finals at the previous three Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournaments, and the last time the Canadian women beat their American counterparts was in 2001. Canada’s all-time record against the U.S. is 3-49-7.
Only the two finalists from this tournament qualify for the Olympics.
Heiner-Møller made three line-up changes from the last game, inserting defender Allysha Chapman, midfielder Ashley Lawrence and teenaged forward Jordyn Huitema into the starting 11. Making way were Nichelle Prince, Jayde Riviere and Gabby Carle.
Costa Rica put up a good fight through the first 45 minutes against the Canadians, who enjoyed the majority of possession, but hardly looked dangerous going forward. Instead, the first half was a physical and chippy affair, with plenty of late tackles and three yellow cards – two were issued to Canada, one of which was picked up by Sinclair in the fourth minute.
Canada’s only scoring chance of the opening half against the well-organized Costa Ricans came late in injury time. Janine Beckie cut in from the left flank and released a driving shot on net from 12 yards out that forced goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez to get down low and make a sharp save at the near-post.
“They sat very, very deep. We didn’t get the room that we looked for between the two lines. When we got it in there, we didn’t have the space enough to turn on the pass, and it was a bit too slow, so their centre back was stepping onto us,” Heiner-Møller said.
Canada tightened the screws a bit on Costa Rica, as Beckie had a pair of half chances early in the second half, while Sophie Schmidt’s shot from distance just went over the crossbar.
The breakthrough finally came off a pretty passing sequence down the right side that involved Beckie, Lawrence and Deanne Rose, who came on as a substitute just minutes earlier. Beckie’s killer pass released Rose, and she squared a pass across the six-yard box for Huitema, who hit the post with her first attempt before scoring on the rebound.
It was Huitema’s 13th career goal in 29 appearances for Canada.
The introduction of Rose, who subbed in for midfielder Jessie Fleming, was the turning point for Canada.
“When she came on, the game was a bit more stretched. We had room to play in behind (Costa Rica’s defence), and we got in her behind a few time … She definitely had a significant impact on the result at the end,” Heiner-Møller said.
Huitema’s goal took the steam out of Costa Rica, as Canada comfortably controlled the game the rest of the way to stamp its passport for Tokyo.