Canadian women’s soccer targets 3rd consecutive Olympic medal at Tokyo Games

Can Canada’s women’s soccer team bring home medals in three consecutive Olympics? Can they change the colour of the medal this time?

Those are just some of the more pertinent questions ahead of the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Olympics set to kick off next week. 

Led by iconic captain Christine Sinclair, Canada is coming off back-to-back bronze medals, and a third consecutive third-place finish would be an unprecedented achievement. But newly installed coach Bev Priestman has set her sights much higher.

“A team like Canada should be on that podium. I do think we need to change the colour of the medal.… To keep moving forward, we have to aim higher than that,” Priestman said.

Here’s what you need to know about the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.

How does the tournament work?

The 12-nation field has been divided into three round-robin groups, and the first round runs from July 21 to July 27.

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The three groups are:

  • Group E: Japan, Canada, Chile and Great Britain.
  • Group F: China, Brazil, the Netherlands and Zambia.
  • Group G: Sweden, United States, Australia and New Zealand.

The top two teams in each group, plus the two best third-place sides overall, advance to the quarter-finals, which begin on July 30. From there, it’s a single elimination format right up until the bronze medal match (Aug. 5) and the final (Aug. 6).

WATCH | CBC Sports soccer panel previews Olympic tournament:

Brendan Dunlop sits down with former Canadian Women’s Soccer National Team members Diana Matheson and Karina Leblanc, to discuss key players for Canada and their chances at a medal in Tokyo. 10:07

What does Canada’s roster look like?

Here is coach Bev Priestman’s 22-player squad. Only 18 players can dress for games.

Goalkeepers: Stephanie Labbé, Kailen Sheridan and Erin McLeod.

Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman, Ashley Lawrence, Jayde Riviere and Gabrielle Carle.

Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Quinn, Desiree Scott and Sophie Schmidt.

Forwards: Janine Beckie, Adriana Leon, Nichelle Prince, Deanne Rose, Christine Sinclair, Evelyne Viens and Jordyn Huitema.

Captain Sinclair (299 caps) is the most experienced member on Canada’s Olympic team, and one of five players who’s made more than 100 international appearances. The others are Schmidt (205), Scott (162), McLeod (116) and Buchanan (103).

At the other end of the spectrum are Viens (seven),Gilles (eight), Sheridan (10) and Riviere (21).

In total, 12 players on this Canadian squad were part of the team that won back-to-back bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, and there are 15 returning players from the 2019 FIFA World Cup team.

The most notable absence on Canada’s roster is veteran midfielder Diana Matheson who, at age 37, recently announced her retirement due to injury problems the past few years. She earned 206 caps and was a key member of the Canadian team that won back-to-back bronze medals. Matheson also scored the winning goal against France in the third-place game at the 2012 Olympics in London.

WATCH | Christine Sinclair’s epic performance at 2012 Olympics:

The performance of Sinclair and the rest of the Canadian team helped ignite a passion for women’s soccer in Canada. The team went on to win bronze after a hard-fought loss to their rivals, the United States. an achievement no Canadian team had accomplished at a Summer Olympics since 1936. 1:32

How difficult is Canada’s group?

Ranked No. 8 in the current FIFA world rankings, Canada opens play at the Tokyo Games on July 21 against No. 10 Japan and plays No. 37 Chile on July 24. Both games are in Sapporo.

Canada’s team then meets Great Britain on July 27 in Kashima. FIFA does not rank Great Britain, but its team will be made up of mostly players from No. 6 England, as well as some from No. 23 Scotland, No. 34 Wales and No. 48 Northern Ireland.

The opening contest is a tough one for coach Priestman’s side as it comes against the hosts. The Japanese sport a 7-4-3 all-time record against the Canadians, including a 2-1 victory in the group stage of the 2012 London Games en route to winning the silver medal. What’s more, Japan earned a 4-0 win on Oct. 6, 2019 in their previous meeting, handing Canada its heaviest loss in seven years.

Two years after playing in its first Women’s World Cup, Chile will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The South Americans are led by Christiane Endler, who is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Chile beat Canada 1-0 at the 2013 Torneio Internacional de Futebol Feminino, the only previous meeting between the countries. But that was a long time ago, and Canada is widely expected to easily see off the Chileans.

The first-round finale against Great Britain will likely decide where Canada finishes in Group E and determine its path to the medal podium. Great Britain’s side is mostly made up of English players and will be coached by England’s interim manager Hege Riise.

England defeated host Canada in the quarter-finals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup and reached the semifinals of the 2019 tournament. But the Lionesses have dropped off in the last two years and earned just two wins in their last six matches. The all-time series between Canada and England is dead even, with seven wins apiece in 14 matches dating back to their first encounter at the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sweden.

WATCH l CBC Sports’ The Olympians feature on women’s soccer:

Watch CBC Sports’ The Olympians feature, on Women’s Soccer. 6:02

Who are the tournament favourites?

The United States is the No. 1 ranked team in the world, and with Germany and France (ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively) having failed to qualify for the Olympics, the Americans have to be considered the favourites. The U.S. is also looking to become the first team in history to win the World Cup and an Olympic gold medal back to back.

But even though the two-time defending World Cup champions are currently riding a 44-game unbeaten run in international play, they have a point to prove in Tokyo after being upset by Sweden in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Rio Games and failing to win a medal. The U.S. is in the same group with Sweden this time around, and they haven’t forgotten about what happened five years ago.

Ranked No. 4, the Netherlands has made great strides over the last decade, having qualified for the World Cup for the first time at the 2015 tournament in Canada. They followed that up by winning the European Championship two years later, and finished runners-up at the 2019 World Cup in France. Now they’re ready to mark their Olympic debut by going on a deep run in Tokyo.

Sweden (No. 5) and Brazil (No. 7) both have deep squads littered with players who ply their trade at some of the top clubs in Europe and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Both countries are eager to finally break through a win a gold medal — especially the Swedes who settled for a silver five years ago in Rio.

Who are some of the top players to watch?

English defender Lucy Bronze is the reigning FIFA women’s player of the year and is coming off a sensational club season, during which she helped Manchester City finish second in England’s FA Women’s Super League and reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Manchester City’s Lucy Bronze is shown in action with West Ham United’s Laura Vetterlein on May 9. She is one of the players to watch in Tokyo. (Action Images via Reuters)

Brazil’s Marta Vieira da Silva, who goes only by Marta, is a true legend of the game. She’s been named FIFA women’s player of the year six times and has scored over 100 goals for her country. But she’s never won an Olympic gold medal, and at age 35, this could be her last chance. 

Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema is a goal-scoring machine. The 24-year-old star for Arsenal is her country’s all-time top scorer with 73 goals in 96 appearances, and she is a ruthless finisher.

Rose Lavelle is an exquisite two-way midfielder who can pull the creative strings for the United States, while teammate and veteran forward Alex Morgan is a dangerous goal scorer who will lead the attacking charge for the Americans.

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