With a spot at this summer’s Olympics in Rio on the line, Canada earned a hard fought 3-1 win versus Costa Rica on Friday, the world’s 34th ranked team.
Both sides dug down deep in this physical affair and Costa Rica showed they are vastly improved from four years ago.
Here are my three takeaways from Canada’s victory in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship semifinal:
Canada faced little push back during group play. They beat their opponents—Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala—by a combined score of 21-0. Goalkeepers Erin McLeod and Stephanie Labbe only faced a total of three shots on net over those three matches. The biggest issue going into the semifinal was that lack of competition and how Canada would adjust to less room to operate and a faster pace to the game.
Coach John Herdman went with the same starting lineup as the tournament opener versus Guyana. He also returned to a four-defender formation, using a 4-3-3.
The opening 15 minutes were slightly anxious for Canada. They tried to force passes and the ball was clogged in the middle of the pitch. Things began to calm down when McLeod made a strong save to stop a speedy run by Melissa Herrera on the right. A few minutes later, Christine Sinclair was given ample time and space to net her 160th career goal.
Speaking of Sinclair, the captain produced her brace on this stunner, which deserves to be viewed on repeat.
Canada weathered the storm after they conceded their only goal on a well-taken penalty kick by Raquel Rodríguez.
It’s a testament to Canada’s mental training they’ve recently done. It’s easy to think back to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal versus England, when Canada allowed two quick goals and had trouble regaining their composure.
MORE ON CANADA: Video: Match highlights of Canada’s big win || Canada beats Costa Rica to qualify for Olympics || Video: Christine Sinclair scores stunner for Canada || Video: James Sharman goes 1-on-1 with Christine Sinclair || Video: James Sharman goes 1-on-1 with John Herdman || Video: Gerry Dobson and Karina LeBlanc recap Canada’s big win || Deanne Rose a blossoming star for Canada || Video: Canada showed confidence, control vs. Costa Rica || Video: Representing Canada at Olympics never gets old
At just 16, Deanne Rose found herself starting up top with Sinclair and Diana Matheson in this must-win game. Even with that pressure on her shoulders, she rarely looked overmatched or out of place.
In fact, the first goal came to fruition because of Rose’s initial play of smartly getting the ball across the pitch. She also put the match out of reach, making it 3-1 with under 10 minutes on the clock when she netted her third goal of the tournament.
Herdman has long preached the motto, “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” Rose clearly fits the bill.
While it won’t provide comfort for the Costa Rican players at this moment, they can look back proudly on their recent accomplishments. The Central American nation has made great strides over the past four years, including an upset over Mexico at this tournament, and a strong showing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer. They earned two draws and a loss at the WWC, narrowly being defeated by powerhouse Brazil 1-0.
Along with those solid results, coach Amelia Valverde is clearly in it for the long haul. At just 29 years of age, combined with her experience coaching Costa Rica’s U-20s, their program is in great hands. A foundation has been built around Raquel Rodríguez, a young striker with world-class talent, along side the leadership of veteran Shirley Cruz. This is a great step for women’s soccer not only in the CONCACAF region, but globally, too.
Notes: Canada finished the semifinal with a passing accuracy of 83 percent…Christine Sinclair had the most shots on goal with three. Deanne Rose followed with two… Josee Belanger leads the Olympic qualifiers in assists with three…The National Women’s Soccer League released its schedule earlier this week. The USA-based pro league, where 11 Canadian players are allocated for the 2016 season, will break from Aug. 1-25 for the Olympics.