After a frustrating, uneven win over Panama that saw 74 stoppages in play according to coach Bev Priestman, Canada looks to find its flow Monday against Costa Rica at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico.
The sixth-ranked Canadian women prevailed 1-0 Friday, despite No. 57 Panama's low defensive block and time-wasting tactics. That, combined with an opening 6-0 victory over No. 76 Trinidad and Tobago, earned Olympic champion Canada a berth in the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with one group game remaining.
With Panama players going down at the drop of a hat, Priestman estimated the game featured a stoppage every 80 seconds on average, making for a scrappy affair.
"The most important thing for us now is we move past that game," Priestman said Sunday. "It wasn't perfect. It got the job done. But I think we need a game now where those sort of antics don't disrupt the rhythm … This game is where we can hopefully get our flow and kick on, because I think we need that test heading into the games in front of us."
Canadian fullback Ashley Lawrence said the team had learned from its first two games at the tournament.
"We understand that there will be frustrations. But things that are ultimately out of our control," she said. "And so for us, it's a process to stay focused on the things that we can control. And that's our game. What we bring. Our style of play. How we can impose ourselves on (the) opposition … That's really what has provided us with success in the past."
Top spot in Group B is on the line Monday, at the Estadio BBVA in Monterrey, against No. 37 Costa Rica, which like Canada is 2-0-0 after defeating Panama 3-0 and Trinidad 4-0.
Priestman said she had one player "with a bit of a niggle that we need to assess" but did not detail who.
Finishing first in the group means avoiding the top-ranked U.S., who wrap up group play Monday against winless Mexico, in the semifinals. The two North American rivals have met in five of the previous 10 CONCACAF women's finals, with the U.S. winning all five.
The Canadian women won the tournament in 1998 and 2010, beating Mexico in the final both times. The Americans have won the other eight editions, including the last two.
The eight team-tournament is split into two groups with the top two from each progressing to the semifinals, qualifying directly to the 2023 World Cup in the process. The two third-place teams qualify for a World Cup intercontinental playoff.
Winning the CONCACAF tournament comes with a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics and a berth in the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup in 2024.
The runner-up and third-place team will meet in Olympic play-in series, scheduled for September 2023, with berths in Olympics and CONCACAF Gold Cup on the line.
After two games, Canada leads the tournament in shots (39) and corners (18) and is tied for second in goals (seven).
Costa Rica is led by captain Katherine Alvarado, Raquel (Rocky) Rodriguez (a teammate of Canadians Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie on the NWSL Portland Thorns), Melissa Herrera (FC Girondins de Bordeaux, France) and 36-year-old veteran Shirley Cruz (formerly of Paris Saint-Germain and the NWSL OL Reign).
"They’ve got some good players," said Priestman. "A strong right side that we need to take care of."
Still Canada has won all 14 previous meetings with Costa Rica, outscoring Las Ticas 47-6.
The Canadians won 1-0 last time out in February 2018, in the semifinal of the 2020 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship in Carson, Calif. Jordyn Huitema's goal in the 72nd minute qualified the Canadians for the Tokyo Olympics.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press