Frustrating wins could be the new normal for Canada’s WNT en route to World Cup

For a woman who has just watched her team qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup, Canadian coach Bev Priestman had a look of quiet disdain on her face on Friday night.

Canada had just beaten Panama in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the Estadio Universitario in Monterrey, Mexico, in the CONCACAF W Championship, a result that allowed them to stamp their passport for the 2023 World Cup which should be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Still, for Priestman, a sense of frustration reigned after Panama’s combination of dogged defense and outright chicanery held Canada at bay for 64 minutes before Julia Grosso netted her third tournament-leading goal to go out of contention. the dead end.

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The Canadians dominated proceedings with their possession game, forcing Las Canaleras (The Canal Girls) on the back foot locking them deep inside their half for long stretches. But Panama’s murderous physique and persistent time-wasting tactics led to frequent stoppages, preventing Canada from building a solid attacking rhythm.

Priestman admitted Panama’s antics frustrated his team that night.

« You saw it, wasted time from the start. It’s the CONCACAF experience we’ve had. It plays into some of the frustrations, and when you get frustrated your standards go down, » Priestman said after the match. .

« Thanks to Panama, they frustrated us. The performance in the first half, we weren’t good enough. Our standards dropped. »

WATCH | Julia Grosso scores again in Canada’s win over Panama:

Julia Grosso scores again in Canada’s win over Panama

The 21-year-old propelled Canada to a 1-0 win at the CONCACAF Women’s Championship with her third goal in two games.

From a statistical point of view, the Reds have largely outclassed their opponents. Canada enjoyed a staggering 77% possession rate, a 14-4 shot lead and completed three times as many passes.

It was much the same story for Canada in their 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago earlier in the week. But this time around, Panama’s complete disinterest in playing attacking soccer and total commitment to putting bodies behind the ball left the Canadians clinging to straws for most of the night.

« We’re not used to having a lot of time and a lot of the ball and when these bunker teams and you have the ball, you get pulled into that false sense of that slow pace, » Priestman explained.

Such has been life for Canada since winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Almost every team the reigning Olympic champions now face go into matches as decided losers, and as such they’re going to do whatever it takes to get a result, be it by hook or by hook. crook. Priestman’s side better get used to it because it’s their new normal.

Canada is sixth in the current FIFA World Rankings, 51 places ahead of Panama, and that disparity between the two nations was on full display on Friday, though the final scoreline did not reflect it. Panama didn’t muster much on offense and didn’t produce a moment of danger that really worried Canada.

Canada’s Cloe Lacasse, center, battles for the ball with Panama’s Yenith Bailey, right, Friday in Monterrey, Mexico. (Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Instead, the Panamanians stuck to a negative mark of football in the faint hope of scoring a goal on the counterattack. It never happened, but it’s not for lack of trying and in doing so they made things incredibly uncomfortable for Canada.

“Teams show us that respect now where they fall into a [deep defensive] block and play with a back five and they’re still hard to break down,” Priestman said.

While captain Christine Sinclair had a relatively quiet night and was substituted after 45 minutes, striker Adriana Leon caused Panama plenty of problems with her bullish play in the final third of the pitch. Leon’s first-half header flashed off the woodwork, as she deftly pivoted out of tight defensive cover and unleashed a fabulous shot from 25 yards that forced Panamanian keeper Yenith Bailey to tip it to the over the crossbar in the 47th minute.

Canada’s perseverance paid off when Jessie Fleming made a run into the box before putting the ball back in the center for Grosso. The youngster did well to take a touch to pass by Panamanian defender Yomira Pinzon before confidently pushing him past Bailey.

Those quality moments were rare for a Canadian team that seemed to have too much free time as they dominated possession and overthinking attack.

« It’s all about ball speed, tempo, intention, forward runs, » Priestman said. « When we do all of that, that’s when we put the ball in the back of the net. »

Another prize on the horizon

However, in the end, Canada achieved its main objective at this tournament by qualifying for the World Cup for the eighth consecutive time. There are other big goals ahead though, as the CONCACAF W Championship winner also qualifies for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

« It’s nothing to laugh at to get to a World Cup. People dream of it in their lifetime. It’s the biggest trophy on the planet and something Canada has yet to conquer. . It meant everything to us to qualify, » Priestman said. . « I’m terribly frustrated with the game, but at the end of the day we won and we’re going to the World Cup. »

Canadian players gather at the end of the match between Panama and Canada on Friday in Monterrey, Mexico. The team faces Costa Rica on Monday. (Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

She later added, « It’s a great learning experience. Was it good enough [vs. Panama]? No. And everyone knows it. But we won…and we’re moving on. »

Canada will close out the first round on Monday against Costa Rica, with the winner taking first place in Group B, before playing the semi-finals next Thursday. Canada have won their 14 previous meetings against Costa Rica since they first met in 1991.

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