3 observations from CanWNT’s loss to Brazil at SheBelieves Cup

The Canadian women’s team finished their SheBelieves Cup tournament on Wednesday with arguably the most disappointing of their three contests – a frustrating 2-0 defeat to Brazil. While missed chances and a few unfortunate injuries will haunt Canada, so too will a few poor defensive moments leading to golden chances for the opposition.

Canada thus begins 2021 with a 1-2 record, having beaten Argentina and fallen to the United States and now Brazil at this tournament over the past week. Plenty of positives have come out of the first three games of the Bev Priestman era, but the team has continued to struggle with some of the things that plagued them in previous years.

The latter stages of the game did look better for Canada, who took control of things while trailing, but they still never quite found the spark they needed to get back into the match.

Here are three observations from Canada’s SheBelieves Cup finale.

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Canada as snakebitten as ever

The Canadians will be very frustrated with the fact that they came out of that match with 11 shots and no goals to show for it. They missed a few decent opportunities in the first half – including one for Nichelle Prince where she nearly caught the Brazilian goalkeeper off her line, but missed the long-range shot – although a lot of those chances came from Brazil’s own mistakes rather than Canada’s attack.

The second half was much better; Canada was repeatedly able to press forward and create chances, with Janine Beckie dropping back to help and Adriana Leon looking quite lively when she came in as a substitute. Still, the injection of Evelyne Viens into the front line didn’t quite have the desired effect for Canada, who weren’t able to provide enough support for the young striker.

Only four of those 11 shots on the day actually found the target, with far too many attempts going way over the bar or out to the side. Ultimately, it seemed that Canada may have been lacking a little confidence in front of goal, which led to some overthinking when players found themselves in the box. The closest Canada got to scoring was Shelina Zadorsky’s whacked shot from the ground in the six-yard box, which went straight at the Brazilian defenders on the goal line.

Canada will come away from the SheBelieves Cup with just one goal in three games, which will be disappointing considering the chances they created. It seems, at the moment, that they’re not yet ready to move on from prolific finisher Christine Sinclair, with the younger attackers still needing to find their killer instinct in the box.

Fleming still shines

The player carrying perhaps the most expectation in this Canada squad did not disappoint in this game, with perhaps her best performance at the tournament. Jessie Fleming grew into the game in midfield very well, continuously picking out passes and beating defenders on the dribble.

Perhaps what helped Fleming most in this game was Beckie dropping back to help create, which freed up some space for Fleming to take risks, something she hasn’t always been able to do at the international level. Canada will need Fleming at the top of her game in the coming years, and performances like Wednesday’s – although the forwards in front of her weren’t able to convert anything – should be encouraging.

Fleming looked like a more complete player than she ever has for the national team, occasionally dropping between the centre-backs before finding her way all the way up to the front of the line.

It’s unfortunate that Quinn was out injured for this game, since they combined well with Fleming in the first match, but Fleming managed to find the ball more than she has in previous games, getting herself much more involved. A few of her long-range passes seemed to truly catch the Brazilians by surprise, springing wide players like Deanne Rose for quick attacks.

She’s still got a way to go toward unlocking her full potential, but Fleming’s play in this match against Brazil might be one of Canada’s biggest positives.

SheBelieves Cup 24 February 2021 - Orlando, FL, USA Canada Soccer by Jeremy Reper Jessie Fleming
Jessie Fleming in action vs. Brazil. (Canada Soccer photo by Jeremy Reper)

Defensive miscommunications costly

A lot of spectators were likely shaking their heads after the two Brazilian goals, neither of which reflected very well on the Canadian defenders. The first goal came off a poor pass out of the back, which led to Brazil’s attackers dancing around the Canadians who didn’t react quickly enough.

The second, perhaps the more frustrating of the two, saw Canada try and fail several times to clear the ball out of the box, only for Brazil’s Julia to hop on the loose ball and fire it into the net. It was actually quite a good finish, in fairness, but the comedy of errors from Canada’s defenders left her in a very good, unchallenged position.

The absence of Kadeisha Buchanan at the back was more noticeable in this game than it was in either of the other two at this tournament, with Canada seemingly missing her confidence and decision-making. If she’d been involved, the ball likely would’ve ended up at the back of the stands rather than in the net, with at least one or two chances to put a foot through the loose ball and put it to safety.

Canada looked very good playing out of the back against the U.S., but for some reason – confidence, Brazil’s pressing, poor decisions – it wasn’t quite working on Wednesday.

If the attack is still a work in progress, it’ll be vital at the Olympics this summer that Canada defends well. Too many mistakes like those, and their campaign could be in jeopardy.