Canada will seek optimism after Friday’s opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup ended in a goalless draw with Nigeria.
Coach Bev Priestman and the players found some. But there was an air of trying to make lemonade out of lemons, especially given the penalty saved by captain Christine Sinclair in the 50th minute.
Canada, ranked 7th in the world, outscored Nigeria, ranked 40th, 15-10 (shooting on target 3-1).
“I feel like we lost points,” said Canadian goalkeeper Kylen Sheridan. “I feel like we lost. I think we wanted more from ourselves.”
“But in the end there were a lot of good things that we wanted to take away. We have a great team and I’m sure we’ll come back strong.”
With Ireland next, Priestman wanted the team to look forward instead of backwards.
“Of course, neither the team nor I are shocked that we didn’t get three points. But in the end, we got one (point) and took two away from the other team,” she added.
The Nigerian crouched and relied on physical defense when the Canadian struck early. But the Super Falcons calmed down as the first half progressed and started asking questions of Olympic champions Canada.
It wasn’t a beautiful match by any means, but there were moments of drama. It was about the beginning of the second half.
Sinclair appealed for a penalty in the 47th minute when he was clipped by Francisca Ordega in the penalty area. There was no decision initially, but Finnish referee Lina Leftvaara finally pointed out the penalty spot after a video review.
Sinclair stepped up and went for a corner, but Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nadziye made a spectacular one-handed save to bunch the ball up from the charging Sinclair.
The penalty kick was good, but the save was even better. Nadzier, who plays for Paris FC in France, raised his fist. Sinclair tried to take another bite of the apple after the save and fell to the ground, looking forlorn. Career Goal 191 must wait for the Canadian captain.
Canada’s recent penalty taker Jesse Fleming was on the bench after being judged not good enough to start.
“Christine Sinclair has scored a lot of goals for this country and I’m sure the fans, the team and everyone can forgive us for missing the penalty,” Priestman said. “We have a 50-50 chance of getting a penalty and Sink didn’t score it today? After all, this team and this country love Christine Sinclair more than anything. So they rally around her and we prepare her for the next game.
Sinclair, who was replaced by Sophie Schmidt in the 71st minute, did not speak to reporters.
“It’s football. It happens,” Schmidt said of the penalty. “The goalkeeper did a really good job and went in the right direction.”
Schmidt said the atmosphere after the game was one of his frustrations.
“We can’t let that performance down because we were underwhelming. There’s a lot of good stuff to take away,” she said. “But I think we’re frustrated that we didn’t find a way to score.”
In the final quarter of the match, both teams had their moments of unease as they sought the winning goal. Sheridan made an acrobatic one-footed save in the 80th minute, but the play was ruled offside.
After a tense eight minutes of injury time, Nigeria midfielder Deborah Abiodan was sent off after a video review for a nasty stud up tackle on full-back Ashley Lawrence.
In looking for positives, Priestman noted that Canada entered the Olympics with a draw (1-1 with Japan). She also noted the positive impact of forwards Chloe Lacasse and Evelyn Vian, other substitutes and the team’s clean sheet.
The Canadian women’s team has kept their opponents scoreless in six of their last 10 World Cup games.
On the other hand, however, Canada won its third Fives game this year. Priestman’s team has only scored in two of those games and is down 7-3 in 2023.
“I said you grow through tournaments,” Priestman said. “Of course, did you expect it to end in a 0-0 draw? Probably not.
“It’s not ideal, but I don’t want to jump to conclusions too quickly about what this is and what it isn’t.”
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The Canadian women’s players depart Melbourne on Monday and travel some 2,720km west to Perth to face 22nd-ranked Ireland on Wednesday. Ireland lost 1-0 to 10th-ranked Australia in Sydney.
Canada will then play Australia on 31 July in Melbourne.
A second-place finish in Group B would likely see them face reigning European champions No. 4 England in the round of 16.
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At kick-off at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, also known as AAMI Park (Friday at 12:30pm local time, Thursday 10:30pm ET), it was sunny with occasional sunshine and a temperature of 11 degrees Celsius.
Home to rugby league’s Melbourne Storm, rugby union’s Melbourne Rebels, football’s Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart, the stadium is across from the Australian Open tennis complex and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The stadium was not full, but the reported crowd of 21,410 was enthusiastic, with the majority appearing to be rooting for the Nigerians.
In this match, Sinclair (40 years and 39 days) and Nigeria’s Ebi Onome (40 years and 74 days), the two oldest players of the tournament, participated, both making their sixth World Cup appearances. Shrimp got a bench start.
Sinclair’s cap number was 324, the world’s all-time leading scorer. It’s also a 22nd-place World Cup start for the talismanic skipper, with only retired Americans Christine Lilly, 29, and Joy Fawcett, 23, still in the tournament.
Raced against time to join the Canadian squad after a lengthy Achilles injury, Dian Rose made an 11-man starter for a total of 1,040 caps in the game. Nichelle Prince, who was also sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, was also on the bench.
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Jordyn Hoitema led the Canadian offensive.
The Canadian dominated the ball early on, and the Nigerian was often content to hold himself down with a rushing tackle.
The Super Falcons took no prisoners, but Canada’s Quinn, who goes by a certain name, received a severe warning for attacking Nigerian star attacker Asisat Oshoala, who plays for Barcelona.
With pressure from Canada continuing, it seemed only a matter of time before Africa’s defense cracked.
But it was Nigeria who had the first chance to score, as Sheridan was forced to make a diving save after a low shot from Ifeoma Onumonu in the 23rd minute, before the Canadians caught a short in the back.
It was the only shot on target for both teams in the first half.
In the 29th minute, Hoitema’s header went off target. Alarm bells rang five minutes later when Sheridan slipped on his foot trying to clear the ball before the Nigerian attacker reached it.
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Lawrence had to clear the ball after centre-back Vanessa Gilles desperate backheel, but the goal was wide open and the Canadian defense was in disarray.
Canada have a 2-1-2 record against Nigeria, winning 2-0 and drawing 2-2 when they met in B.C. in April 2022, but Nigeria have held the lead in their last two World Cup encounters, drawing 3-3 in 1995 and winning 1-0 in 2011, when they finished last.
Canada currently has a World Cup record of 8-14-6, while Nigeria is 4-19-4.
Canada’s best World Cup finish was 4th place in 2003. The Canadian, making his eighth appearance in a football showcase, lost to Sweden in the round of 16 in France four years ago.
Nigeria have qualified for all eight World Cups and have only made it through the first round twice, losing to Brazil in the quarter-finals in 1999 and Germany in the round of 16 in 2019.