• Germany 3 (Huth 1’, Dabritz 70’, 85’), Canada 2 (Sinclair 59’, Fleming 69’)
• Canadian women’s team loses 1st home game of 2018
• Late German goal sinks Canada at Tim Hortons Field
HAMILTON, Ont. – Germany’s utter domination of Canada in women’s soccer continues. But there is hope for the Reds.
Playing in their first home game of 2018, the Canadians came up short on Sunday afternoon, losing a 3-2 heartbreaker to the Germans in an international friendly before an announced crowd of 22,826 at Tim Hortons Field. Captain Christine Sinclair and youngster Jessie Fleming scored for Canada. Turid Knaak netted the winning goal for the Germans with five minutes left in regulation.
Germany, the reigning Olympic champions and No. 3 in the current FIFA world rankings, has now won 15 of 16 matches against fourth-ranked Canada. Despite the loss, Canada had every right to feel good about its effort, pushing Germany to the very end.
“We have such high expectations for ourselves now. We’re really pushing. We say we want to be No. 1 [in the world] and we’re very serious about that,” Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe said after the game.
“A good takeaway is that we are right there. We’re so close. It’s a few small lapses that [top] teams are going to punish us for.”
The Canadians are using this match and future friendlies as preparation for the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in October, a tournament that also serves as the qualifying competition for next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
With this in mind, Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller went with 3-5-2 formation, instead of using four defenders at the back. Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt led Canada’s attack, with Fleming filling in as a playmaker in the hole just behind the two forwards. It was a bold move by Heiner-Moller to go with such an attack-minded set-up against the German side, even one that left several members of its Gold medal roster at home.
A native of Denmark, Heiner-Moller said he was proud of his players for their performance and the way they adapted to the 3-5-2 formation, something the team worked hard on in training sessions all week leading up to Sunday’s contest.
“The middle third of this match was one of the best [stretches] we’ve played since I’ve been coach,” Heiner-Moller said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Sinclair, the team’s iconic captain and goal-scorer.
“This is one of those games that we’ll be able to look back on and [know] we put forth a good performance, and a positive performance that we can build up ahead of World Cup qualifying,” Sinclair stated.
The Canadian coach is experimenting with the 3-5-2 formation because he wants his team to be more fluid in its playing style, and to be able to make changes on the fly and as the situation dictates it.
“For me and this team, it’s [about] exploring how we can improve, instead of doing what we’ve always done,” Heiner-Moller explained.
Using this system also gets Fleming, one of Canada’s brightest attacking prospects, more directly involved in the attack.
“One of the things I like about us playing [in a 3-5-2] is she gets closer to goal. She’s a great player setting up the game, but if we can have her closer to [Sinclair] or whoever is playing up front, that’ll be a huge win for us,” Heiner-Moller said.
Canada has won three and lost three since Heiner-Moller replaced former coach John Herdman in January.
The Reds couldn’t have managed a worse start on Sunday, giving up a goal after just 51 seconds as they were caught flat-footed in transition. A giveaway by defender Kadeisha Buchanan in midfield led to a German counterattack, with Lea Schuller running straight down the middle. The ball eventually landed at the feet of Svenja Huth down the right, and the German midfielder made no mistake, curling a shot inside the far post.
“It’s never the start you want. But it’s a good lesson for us, and a good reminder that when you come out onto the field, from the first whistle to the final whistle, you have to be focused, ready to go and not let those things happen,” Labbe said.
Canada quickly settled down after that and began to carry the majority of the play, with Fleming effectively pulling the creative strings and linking up with Schmidt in the final third of the pitch. Schmidt had a chance to equalize for Canada, but her header off a corner kick was cleared off the goal line by a German defender glued to the post.
Labbe made an outstanding save midway through the first half, furiously back-peddling inside her six-yard box as Huth floated a cross to the back post. Labbe did a great job to get into position and palm away Lena Petermann’s header to deny the forward a sure goal.
“It was one of those crosses where I knew I wasn’t able to cut it out. My biggest thing was to get to the back post and make myself as big as possible,” Labbe explained.
Canada continued to go at Germany and was rewarded for its efforts shortly after the halftime break. The visitors couldn’t clear their lines off a free kick, and the ball looped over a German defender inside the box, falling fortuitously for Sinclair who nodded it home. It was the 173rd national team goal for Sinclair, who now sits 11 back of American Abby Wambach as the all-time leading scorer in women’s international soccer.
Canada took the lead after Schmidt picked off a German pass, and then played a low ball into the box that Sinclair dummied. Fleming took a lovely touch, and then slotted it past the German goalkeeper.
But Germany marched right back down the field and equalized just seconds later. Sara Dabritz was allowed all kinds of time and space before unleashing a gorgeous, powerful shot from outside the penalty area that nestled inside the top right corner.
“To go up 2-1, and then to have them score within 15 seconds, it’s deflating,” Sinclair admitted.
Germany stuck the dagger in late when Labbe tipped a free kick from 20 yards out against the post, and the ball came across the six-yard box where Knaak headed it into an empty net.
NOTES: Former Canadian defender Candace Chapman was honoured prior to kickoff on Sunday. Chapman earned 114 caps between 2002-20012, and was recently named to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame. She is the first member of Canada’s 2012 Olympic bronze-medal team to enter the hall… Sunday marked Canada’s second time playing in Hamilton. In 2015, the Reds defeated England 1-0 at Tim Hortons Field with 23,197 spectators on hand in a World Cup tune-up match. Sophie Schmidt scored the lone goal, while Erin McLeod earned a clean sheet.