MATCH ANALYSIS: CanWNT advance to SheBelieves Cup final with shootout victory over Brazil

Final Score: Canada 1-1 Brazil (4-2 on penalties)
Goalscorers: Gilles 77′; Tarciane 22′ (PK)
2024 SheBelieves Cup

Match Recap

Canada advanced to the final of the 2024 SheBelieves Cup on Saturday afternoon, beating Brazil on penalties at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

On her return to the national team for the first time since October 2022 following a lengthy recovery from a torn ACL, Janine Beckie had Canada’s first two strong chances of the match. The second one was particularly close, with Beckie getting her head on a cross into the box from Deanne Rose, but redirecting it just wide of the Brazilian net, after having a shot blocked by Antônia moments earlier.

After an end-to-end start to the match, it was the Seleção who opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute. Jade Rose made a sliding tackle in the box in an attempt to win the ball but was unsuccessful, sending 20-year-old centre-back Tarciane to the spot. The young defender confidently fired the ball past Kailen Sheridan to open the scoring with her first goal for the senior national team.

Antônia tried to double the lead for Brazil a few minutes later, rifling a volley from outside the penalty area that didn’t miss the target by much, sailing wide of the left post. The team maintained their pressure for most of the rest of the half, and had another great chance to extend their lead in the 43rd minute — with Gabi Portilho sprinting into a promising position in the Canadian box but losing her footing while getting ready to take the shot.

Adriana Leon hit the target with the final kick of the first half, volleying the ball from the edge of the penalty area, but it didn’t have enough power behind it and Tai Borges was able to make a routine catch. Canada had a few chances in the first 45 minutes, but it was Brazil who spent much of the first half on the front foot.

Ten minutes after being substituted into the match at halftime, Canada’s Simi Awujo — playing in her hometown of Atlanta — took a shot from distance, but her effort struck the outside of the right post and went out for a goal kick. A few minutes later Brazil came close to making it 2-0, with Sheridan denying a point-blank shot from Yasmim in the penalty area. Sheridan was called into action again in the following moments, forced to push the ball over her crossbar after a shot from distance started to dip towards her net.

The breakthrough for Canada came in the 77th minute, on a perfectly-executed set piece. Jessie Fleming curled a free kick into the penalty area, where Vanessa Gilles redirected the ball into the back of the net with a thumping header.

Both sides came close to finding a winner as they traded chances while the clock continued to wind down, but after five minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half the match ended tied and needed to be decided by a penalty shootout. Brazil subbed in their usual starting goalkeeper Lorena at the end of the second half, hoping to gain an advantage in the looming shootout.

Ashley Lawrence sent the first kick of the shootout over the bar, before Kailen Sheridan stopped Marta’s shot with Brazil’s first. Adriana Leon picked out the bottom right corner to give Canada the lead in round two, before Cristiane picked out the same corner to tie things up again. Jade Rose sent Lorena the wrong way to begin round three, and Antônia sent her shot wide to give Canada the advantage. Simi Awujo scored Canada’s fourth kick to pile the pressure on Tarciane — who scored from the spot for the second time in the game.

Julia Grosso stepped up with the opportunity to win the game with Canada’s fifth shot, and buried it, sending Canada through to the SheBelieves Cup final, where they will face the United States in Columbus on Tuesday. Brazil will take on Japan in the third place game earlier that night, also at Field in the Ohio capital.

Three Observations

Necessary halftime tactical changes see improvement, lead to comeback victory

Bev Priestman experimented with a new formation in Saturday’s match, attempting what looked like some a of a 4-2-3-1 formation in defence, but a 3-4-3 with a box in midfield in attack.

The change from the flat 3-4-3 was partly due to the lack of wingbacks available from the start for Priestman — with Gabrielle Carle and Bianca St-Georges on the bench and not at full fitness, and Jayde Riviere and Sydney Collins out of the squad entirely with injuries.

Out of possession, Janine Beckie was playing as a left back, but pushing higher up the pitch in attack, joined in the backline by Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, and Jade Rose from left to right. Ashley Lawrence was rotating between right wing back and defensive midfield — where Jessie Fleming spent much of the half on her own in central midfield, mostly limited to defending and not getting on the ball as much as she would normally like. Jordyn Huitema, usually a forward, was playing in an attacking free role that allowed her to go where she wanted at the top of the midfield, behind a front three of Cloé Lacasse, Deanne Rose, and Adriana Leon.

The formation required some players to rotate into different positions on the fly — especially Lawrence between the middle of the park and the right side, Beckie between left back and wingback, and Huitema looking for space to receive and play with the ball. It left Canada wide open in midfield on several occasions, with Fleming often the one and only line of midfield defence against a Brazilian team that was routinely hitting Canada on the counter-attack. Fleming and Lawrence in particular weren’t being played in a way that got the best out of who are normally two of the best players in the world, and it was clear by halftime that something needed to change.

Priestman went back to the drawing board, and swapped out Janine Beckie for Simi Awujo at the break. Adding an extra player in the middle of the park switched the formation back to the flat 3-4-3 that has brought them a lot of success since it started being used by Canada last September.

The back three of Buchanan, Gilles, and Jade Rose remained intact, Awujo was deployed beside Fleming in the middle of the park with Lacasse and Lawrence at the left and right wingback positions respectively, and Huitema moved to the left wing with Leon on the right and Deanne Rose up top. Later in the half, Bianca St-Georges replaced Deanne Rose and took over at wingback, with Lacasse moving back into attack and Huitema into the middle before Lacasse was later replaced herself by Julia Grosso. Huitema would later be subbed out for Evelyne Viens up top.

Fleming was able to get onto the ball a lot more in the second half, and that led to an improvement in Canada’s attack. As Les Rouges got onto more set pieces in the second half, Fleming started to deliver some dangerous ones into the box, and eventually one of them was headed home for the tying goal.

The sudden improvement after the break was perhaps proof that if something isn’t broken you shouldn’t try to fix it. While she was partly forced into these changes due to player availability, Priestman said after the match that now is the time to do these tests rather than just before the Olympics kick off in July.

“We had to make some tweaks,” Priestman admitted. “I felt we needed to get an extra midfielder in there and move things around. I thought they caused us some real problems down the sides of us, hence why we made some changes. I think now is the time to try it and be ready for a team that does match you up, but I thought that they approached the game a little bit differently to what we’d felt before.

“We had to adapt, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but I think what I know about this team if I go to Tokyo is the ability to come back in the mindset — they did it in the Gold Cup against the US, they did it tonight, and sometimes that’s what it takes to win.

When asked after the match if Canada had played well enough in the first half, the Canada boss was definitive in her answer.

“No,” Priestman said bluntly, “it reminded me of [Canada’s October friendly against Brazil in] Halifax where we just couldn’t get a foothold in the game. I thought we had some big chances, we broke a couple of times, and we’re a more sharper, seasoned versions of us, in terms of not thinking about a new shape and things might put them away.

“I think it was a ropey first half, I knew I had to go in at halftime and change some things, but that’s part of the journey and I think we have to embrace that and know that we’re on a journey.”

A much better second half will give Priestman and Canada something to build on, both for Tuesday night’s final, and the upcoming months leading up to the Olympic Games this summer.

Canada celebrate their shootout victory over Brazil at the SheBelieves Cup. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

Janine Beckie lively in long-awaited national team return

Portland Thorns and Canadian women’s national team star Janine Beckie made her long-awaited return to the Canadian women’s national team on Saturday afternoon, after a year-long battle back from tearing her ACL during a preseason game in March 2023.

Due to the injury, Beckie missed the 2023 Women’s World Cup and the entire NWSL season, before making a triumphant return to the field 366 days after her injury, scoring twice in Portland’s 2024 regular season opener on March 16 against the Kansas City Current. Prior to Saturday, Beckie’s last match for the national team was an October 2022 friendly, which she scored in, against Morocco.

Beckie started on the left side of Canada’s midfield, and immediately made an impact on the game. Beckie had two of Canada’s best scoring opportunities of the first half. The first was a shot from inside the box in the eighth minute, which was blocked by Brazil’s Antônia, before Beckie sent a header from close range wide of the mark with her second opportunity four minutes later.

She was substituted out of the game for Simi Awujo at halftime, but showed signs of promise in her return to the national team, which she will look to build on against the United States on Tuesday night, and in the months leading up to a likely inclusion on the Paris 2024 Olympic roster.

“All credit to Janine,” said Priestman after the match. “First game back [and] it’s not a not-physical game to come back from such a long time out. Unfortunately she came out because I’m getting an extra midfielder in. She’s okay, I knew she had to come out soon anyway, and made that decision, but it was nothing to do with that performance.”

Janine Beckie in action against Brazil at the 2024 SheBelieves Cup. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

Canada show improvement in shootout situations to book spot in SheBelieves Cup final

When Canada reached the top of the podium at the Olympics three summers ago, it was on the back of some clinical penalties, including a shootout in the gold medal match against Sweden. The team has been less assured from the spot in the years since, and were dumped out of March’s Concacaf W Gold Cup following a disastrous penalty shootout against the United States in the semifinals.

The team promised to grow and learn from that match and the way it ended, and on Saturday showed signs of that in their first match since the Gold Cup. Tied 1-1 after 90 minutes against Brazil, the match skipped extra time and went straight to penalties, where Canada was set to shoot first.

Ashley Lawrence missed the net with the first shot, but Kailen Sheridan denied Marta’s attempt on the following one. Adriana Leon and Cristiane exchanged goals in round two, before Jade Rose scored and Antônia missed — giving Canada the advantage down the stretch. Simi Awujo, playing in her hometown of Atlanta, scored to make it 3-1, which Tarciane responded to with a goal of her own.

For more Tokyo 2020 symmetry, it was Julia Grosso who scored the winning goal for Canada — picking out the bottom left corner to secure the victory.

Showing a lot more confidence and composure, the shootout win was a bit of redemption for Canada, and they will now have the opportunity to avenge their defeat to the Americans on Tuesday night when they meet in the SheBelieves Cup final in Columbus, Ohio.

Particularly impressive was the young duo of Rose and Awujo — seen as the future of the national team — stepping up confidently, and burying their penalties in high-pressure moments.

“There was some really good learnings this week, we’ve put them learnings in place, and I was just really happy to see one,” Priestman said after the match. “Kailen, she puts a lot of time and energy into studying the opposition, and then you go and see two kids, in big moments, put their hand up, ‘I’m going, I’ll take one’, in Jade Rose and Simi [Awujo]. I think that speaks to the team, and I think when kids do that, the scars maybe of the last penalty shootout or the last misses go away, because there’s a bravery there, a step up.

“It reminds me of Jessie in Tokyo, kids stepping up and doing things like that. I was really pleased that we took a step forward in the penalty space because I didn’t think they were great in in the US game, but everything is about improving in this journey and and we did that.” Player of the Match

Jessie Fleming, Canada

After a quiet first half for the Canada captain, Fleming made some key defensive stops in the second half, and assisted the tying goal with an excellent set piece.

What’s next?

Next up, Canada will play the United States in the SheBelieves Cup final on Tuesday night at Field in Columbus. Brazil will play Japan in the third place game that same night, after the Americans beat Japan 2-1 in the other semifinal earlier on Saturday. Watch all SheBelieves Cup matches live on OneSoccer.