Canada wallops Guatemala in CONCACAF qualifiers

Guatemala’s Kellin Mayen (16) challenges Canada's Jessie Fleming (17) for the ball during the first half of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament soccer match Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON, TEXAS – With the group stage easily and comfortably behind them, the real challenge for the Canadian women’s soccer team begins now.

Rebecca Quinn and Nichelle Prince each had a hat trick as Canada wrapped up the first round of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with a 10-0 drubbing of Guatemala on Tuesday.

Everything on this night went right for Canada, who sealed first place in the group, as expected, and set up a winner-take-all semifinal against Costa Rica on Friday with a berth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio up for grabs.

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With passage through to the semis already assured coming in, Canada put out a few players who hadn’t seen much action in the tournament thus far. Backup goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe earned her first minutes in goal after Erin McLeod started the first two games of the tournament. Captain Christine Sinclair and a host of other veterans started on the subs bench, while youngsters were given starts.

“It was mission accomplished tonight. We challenged the group of players going out there tonight to maintain that intensity and focus,” Canadian coach John Herdman said. “It was wonderful just watching some of those young players come alive and you put a different group on and the chemistry is still there and they’re working hard for each other.”

Melissa Tancredi opened the scoring early before other first-half goals from Gabrielle Carle, Janine Beckie, Prince and Quinn.

Prince’s second and third goals came late in the second half, as did Tancredi’s second.

“It was fun just getting on the ball, living on it and getting to play,” said Quinn, who started in midfield despite being a centre-back in much of her time spent in the Canadian youth program and early couple of games at the senior level.

The goals were Quinn’s first three in her international career.

“They set a low block for us so that’s where our midfield could shine on the ball and Jess(ie) (Fleming) and I had fun playing combinations and really doing what we love to do, which is have the ball at our feet,” Quinn said.

This match concludes the portion of the tournament where Canada faced opposition that had no real hope of getting anything off them, and while Costa Rica are massive underdogs going into Friday’s showdown, there will be added pressure on the line, as the winner goes to Rio and the loser goes home.

There really was no comparing the two teams on the field Tuesday night. It was encouraging to see Canada not only win, but do it with a high level of creativity and flow for a group of players that may not have a whole lot of experience on the field together. It’s a testament to the depth that is being developed in the program.

The only real test that Canada needed to pass was getting everyone through the night without injuries and that looks to be the case as players were given ample rest for the bigger tests ahead.

“They set themselves and internal target and reached it. They had in the previous game and reached that so that’s what I’m really enjoying about the team,” Herdman said. “They see it, they say it and then they do it. When you get a group of people like that are going to commit on a night like this, it tells you a bit about the confidence.”

Tancredi’s goal came in the fourth minute when she headed in a right-sided cross from Prince from close range. It was her second goal of the competition after she scored against Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t until the 27th minute that Carle scored on a scramble in front when Guatemalan goalkeeper Alicia Navas spilled a cross from the left, but Canada had been dominant in between.

It was another nine minutes before Beckie was left unmarked inside the penalty area and she volleyed in a cross from the left.

Prince scored with two minutes left in the first half and Quinn’s first came from the spot after a handball in the penalty area with the halftime whistle following seconds later.

Quinn’s second came in the 49th minute when she curled a lovely shot from outside the box that picked the top corner after having the ball laid back into her path.

Earlier in the evening, Trinidad and Tobago thumped Guyana 5-1 to finish in second place in the group. T&T will play the United States on Friday in the other game that will decide an Olympic berth from the CONCACAF region.

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