Canada looks for its third straight win at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay on Wednesday when it faces Spain in its final pool game.
With a quarter-final berth already assured, the young Canadians are battling the Spaniards for first place in Group D. But they will have to do it without suspended captain Jordyn Huitema.
The 17-year-old from Chilliwack, B.C., was shown a red card Saturday in a 2-0 win over South Korea for an elbow during a aerial challenge. Ariel Young will serve as captain for Wednesday’s match.
Canadian coach Rhian Wilkinson, a former decorated international in her own right, did not like the call on her five-foot-10 star striker.
"I feel that she’s being held down. And so when you’re being held down, you raise your arm to try and get leverage," Wilkinson said. "Jordyn is a very tall young lady who for the rest of her career is going to get these frustrating calls against her because people my height are about her elbow height.
"So I think it’s a hard call, but by the letter of the law I can understand if that’s what they saw. So we’re handling it. It’s another test for the team."
Huitema, who has already earned 15 caps with Canada’s senior side, has scored two of Canada’s five goals at the tournament.
The good news is the Canadians have already made it to the knockout round. Wilkinson has also made the most of her entire roster, using 18 players in the first two games.
In the quarterfinals, Canada will face one of Cameroon, Germany, North Korea and U.S. The winner in Canada’s pool will face the runner-up in Group C while the runner-up takes on the Group D winner.
"Either way … we’re going to be playing a very strong team. We know that," said Wilkinson. "And I’m very glad that I brought 21 players who can all play a really incredible standard of soccer. I’m really looking forward to (Wednesday)."
Cameroon, Germany, North Korea and U.S. are all tied on three points going into play Wednesday, when Germany plays the U.S. and Cameroon faces North Korea.
Canada has six points while Spain has four and Colombia one. South Korea is out of contention with zero points.
A win or draw would give Canada first place in its group. Spain can take first with a win and advance in second place by virtue of a draw. Colombia can also grab second spot but needs to beat South Korea, improving its goal difference in the process, and hope Spain loses.
It was a journey just getting to Uruguay for the Canadians.
Canada earned its spot at the tournament after a dramatic 2-1 win over Haiti in the match for third place at the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship in Florida. Calgary striker Andersen Williams, with a headed assist from Huitema, scored the winning goal in the 89th minute in the match for third place.
The regional qualifier started in April in Nicaragua but lasted just six games before CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, pulled the plug due to violence in the capital city Managua. Play resumed some 45 days later in Florida.
Wilkinson was an assistant coach during qualifying, taking over the squad when head coach Bev Priestman left to join the English women’s team. Wilkinson has put her own stamp on the roster, choosing six new faces from the side that in Nicaragua.
Halifax forward Teni Akindoju, who plays alongside Huitema on the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX team, has been with the team since the start of qualifying.
It’s a tight-knit squad with Akindoju saying the Nicaragua experience "connected us even more."
"We’re able to stay strong and fight together through any adversity," said the 17-year-old.
Canada has never progressed beyond the FIFA U17 quarterfinals, falling at that hurdle in 2008, 2012 and 2014.