by Ciara McCormack
Canada-Japan was an opening match that some felt had the makings for an upset. With Canada’s much heralded new coach John Herdman, the return of one of Canada’s best players Diana Matheson to a midfield that has struggled going forward and Canada’s advantage physically, some thought that the Japanese could be surprised. Yet it was a game of eery deja-vu both to their clash with the U.S. in June in Salt Lake, as well as bearing similarities to the first game of the 2011 Women’s World Cup where they faced a world power in Germany.
As in the game against the U.S., the score was 2-1 in favor of Canada’s opponents, Melissa Tancredi finished solidly in the mid 50th minute (55′ v Japan, 57′ v US), there was a miscommunication between goalkeeper Erin McLeod and defender Carmelina Moscato that resulted in a goal, and Lauren Sesselmann again played goalkeeper, making a wonderful stop off the line against the Japanese, as she did against the U.S., that may prove crucial in goal differential moving forward.
Like the 2011 World Cup in Germany, Canada was facing a worthy opponent who at times outmatched them, but who they managed to keep the scoreline close with. As Christine Sinclair left the field with a broken nose against Germany in the opening game of the World Cup, Canadian fans similarly held their breath, as Candace Chapman, a stalwart in Canada’s backline, limped off the field in obvious pain, and out of the stadium on crutches, leaving her participation for at least the rest of the opening round in doubt. When Chapman was injured in the 84th minute, Herdman had used up all of his subs, including two curious simultaneous substitutions of his outside backs in the 70th minute, that left the Canadians short a man for the duration of the match.
The Japanese showed their comfort and skill on the ball, effortlessly switching the ball from side to side, displaying short passes, as well as spraying the ball long, causing the Canadians to spend good portions of the match chasing. In the 33rd minute they stamped their authority on the match, as FIFA World Player of the Year, Homare Sawa sent a perfect outside of the foot chip into Shinobu Ohno. Ohno then showed her skill, back heeling the ball into the path of Nahomi Kawasumi and her shot beat McLeod. Just over 10 minutes later was the collision between McLeod and Moscato who was positioned to clear the cross. Miyama headed the ball easily in to take the game into half time. After Sesselmann’s goal saving heroics in the 51st minute, Tancredi again showed her ability to finish, as she timed her run well, and finished a fantastic cross from right back Rhian Wilkinson who had gotten up the line. The Canadians fought for a tying goal as balls were aimed forward towards Sinclair, but the Japanese paid the top Canadian attacker due attention, thus negating her to ability to influence the match. The Canadians finished the match admirably with ten men on the field but a great concern moving forward will be who will replace Chapman as she crumpled to the ground in obvious pain with no contact. Emily Zurrer, another center back with Olympic experience was sidelined for the opening match due to a hamstring tear, so all eyes will be on the Canadian defense as they face South Africa who lost to Sweden 4-1. South Africa’s lone goal came from a fantastic shot by striker Portia Modise in the 60th minute.