U-17 Women’s World Cup takeaways: Canada looking very good

Lara-Kazandjian

Lara Kazandjian, middle, celebrates with teammates after scoring for Canada on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Canada Soccer)

Canada is through to the knockout round of the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The Reds earned a 2-0 win over South Korea on Saturday in their second match, with captain Jordyn Huitema and Lara Kazandjian finding the back of the net. That result coupled with Spain’s 1-1 draw with Colombia in the day’s other Group D game means the Canadians booked their spot in the quarter-finals with one match remaining in the group stage.

Here are my three thoughts on Canada’s win over the Koreans.

Another tale of two halves for Canada

Like it did in its opening 3-0 win over Colombia earlier this week, Canada slogged its way through a mundane first half against South Korea, unable to assert itself in the final third or take control of the contest. The Canadians stuck to their game plan of building deliberate attacks with stretches of possession and trying to play out from the back. But South Korea did a good job of frustrating the Canadians via their high pressing game, not allowing the Reds to go down the middle and instead pushing them out to the flanks.

South Korea’s high press forced Canada into turnovers inside its half of the field, but the Asians never capitalized as defender Jade Rose quarterbacked a Canadian defence that gave away very little, and goalkeeper Anna Karpenko wasn’t called upon to make a difficult save. The South Koreans did manage a shot that went off the crossbar, but never came close to opening up Canada’s back line.

“We played a very strong South Korean team and I think we saw that in the first 45 minutes. They definitely were pinning us back in our half in the first half,” Canadian coach Rhian Wilkinson admitted.

The second half was all Canada, with Wilkinson subbing on forward Andersen Williams and Wayny-Natasha Balata Nguenign at the start of the second half. The double switch seemed to spark Canada into action. Suddenly, the Reds began forcing the issue by playing a pressing game itself, and forcing the South Koreans to play deep inside their half.

Huitema broke the deadlock in the 59th minute when she scored on a sweet volley that looped high in the air and landed inside the far post after South Korean goalkeeper Kang Ji-yeon punched away Canada’s corner kick. Canada added a second in the 74th minute when Kazandjian did very well to win the ball off a Korean defender before firing a shot from 22 yards out that sailed over the goalkeeper and under the crossbar. The two goals and the win were just reward for a Canadian team that looked far more dangerous in attack than their opponents.

Huitema’s goal and red card

Huitema’s second goal of the tournament gave Canada the lead and control of the game, but just eight minutes later her day came to an abrupt end. While battling to win a high ball, Huitema threw out her elbow to generate some power, and hit Korean defender Kim Min-ji in the face, drawing blood. Referee Maria Carvajal of Chile reached into her pocket and brandished a red card, and Huitema marched off the field in tears after being ejected from the game.

Video replays of the incident showed that it was an incredibly harsh call. There was clearly no intent on the part of Huitema to hurt Min-ji, as she had her back to the Korean defender and didn’t even know she was there. A foul? Yes. But a red card? Never.

To their credit, though, the Canadians did not let the loss of their captain adversely affect them. Instead of sitting back after being forced to go on with 10 players, Canada continued on in the same fashion before Huitema’s red card by being aggressive and taking the game to the Koreans. Kazandjian’s hard work in winning the ball deep inside Korea’s half and then quickly firing a shot that doubled Canada’s advantage was indicative of the Reds’ approach after Huitema was sent off: straight ahead and fearless.

“This is a team I’m so proud to be the coach of. Obviously, there was a red card but they also turned the game around and showed who they really were; resilient. Fantastic team performance today,” Wilkinson offered.

Blessing in disguise for Canada?

The red card means Huitema will be suspended for Canada’s final game of the group stage against Spain on Wednesday in Montevideo.

Had Wednesday’s contest been a must-win for Canada, Wilkinson might have been tempted to start her captain against the Spaniards. Now, she has no choice, and Huitema can have a well-earned day off, thus saving herself and allowing her to recuperate for the rigours of the quarter-finals.

Also, Canada displayed a lot of spirit after Huitema was red carded on Saturday, showing that it is much more than just a one-person team, and that it is able to overcome adversity and win an important game without their captain. They have the opportunity to show the same kind of resolve on Wednesday against Spain.

NOTES: Canada is one of six nations to have competed at all five previous U-17 Women’s World Cups, reaching the quarter-finals in 2008, 2012 and 2014… North Korea is the defending champion… The 16 teams at this tournament are divided into four round-robin groups, with the top two nations in each advancing to the quarter-finals. Ghana and New Zealand have already moved on to the next round.

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