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Canada’s U23 National “Excel” Program: A New Beginning

by Ciara McCormack

Canada just wrapped up an U23 National Team camp in Tampa Bay, Fla., marking the first time Canada has held an official camp at this level. This has been a component of the Canadian development chain that has been missing through the years. With the acceleration of development in the women’s game in other countries allowing for a deep player pool, the necessity to fill this gap is one that the Canadian staff no doubt took into account as it looks towards a good performance at the 2015 World Cup on Canadian soil. Read more

Author Intro and National Team Corner Update

Based on the fact that I am known as the world traveller on the OGM staff, I have been drafted to cover the national teams on the international women’s soccer stage. I will be giving a weekly update on the subject and welcome any feedback and info at my twitter handle @ciaramccormack as I do my best to give our readers information on the most interesting storylines of the week from women’s national teams around the world. Read more

Olympic Recap: Bronze Medal Match, Canada vs. France

by Ciara McCormack

One didn’t know what to expect coming into the France-Canada game. Both teams were coming off emotional semifinal losses that battered the teams as much mentally as they did physically, with both playing games that seemed worthy of an appearance in the Olympic finals.

Yet the two halves of the game could not have been any more different.

The first half was arguably either a chess match as the teams felt each other out, or a product of two tired teams playing in their sixth game in two weeks. There were few chances as the Canadians were organized defensively, and were playing a composed game keeping possession through their back line but had little connection between their midfield and forward lines. On the other hand, the French did little to play to their strengths, knocking the ball around too slowly and doing little to expose spaces for the speed of Elodie Thomis. The only legitimate chances of the half came midway through with Christine Sinclair firing over the bar after a delicate outside of the foot pass from defender Rhian Wilkinson, and Thomis doing the same at the stroke of half time.

If the first half could put people to sleep, the second half was like an orchestra that started to play, whose momentum continued to build and build until a final crescendo at the cessation of the game.

The French began the second half, making it clear that they were hitting their rhythm, finally beginning to play to their strengths with quick ball movement, runs into space and releasing players to showcase their technique and taking the Canadians on 1 v 1 down the line. Thomis showed the skill and speed that has made her a danger all tournament, as she made a run down the right, and laid a pass into the path of Louisa Necib. Erin McLeod who had a solid game in net for the Canadians, held on to the ball off of the deflected drive.

France Coach Bruno Bini began to play his hand, grabbing onto the offensive momentum of his team, putting in both Camille Abily and Eugenie Le Sommer as the half progressed. Soon after Thomis showed her determination in having a hand in the result of the match, as she latched onto a ball that had been flicked on and drove through the Canadian defense half-volleying an effort off the cross bar and over. Chances came again and again for the French, first Abily in the 65th minute whose shot bounced off the post, and then Le Sommer, who wasted some great work by Thiney to release her in front of goal, only to see her effort fired over. Corine Franco seemed to finally give France the edge beating McLeod in the 71st minute, but Desiree Scott, who has had a fantastic tournament for the Canadians, showed her awareness in jumping off her post to get behind McLeod and clear the ball off the line. Franco again had more chances off of corner kicks, but put both of her efforts off target.

Yet if France played the metaphorical instruments for the entire second half, the Canadians snuck in to hit the final, most important note in the form of Diana Matheson. The most dimunitive player on the field, and one of Canada’s most consistent over the past decade (crucial assist to Charmaine Hooper in a 1-0 quarterfinal win over top team China in the 2003 World Cup, anyone?), showed her poise in shocking the French and doing what the French couldn’t do the entire match, as she calmly put the ball past Sarah Bouhaddi, latching on to a blocked Sophie Schmidt shot, eight yards from goal.

It could be said that the Canadians feeling robbed by the United States in their last game committed their own robbery against the stunned French. France outshot the Canadians 18-4, and the Canadians proved the beauty of the game, as their only shot on goal in the game was the one that mattered, as it sent Canada home with their first Olympic team medal since 1936.

Olympic Recap: Brazil vs. Japan

by Ciara McCormack
In another highly anticipated match-up, this time at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Brazil-Japan did not disappoint pitting the clinical Japanese against the flamboyant Brazilians.
The Brazilians looked the more dangerous side in the opening part of the first half as Jorge Barellos’ side looked like they were not dwelling on their 1-0 loss to Great Britain in their final match of the opening round. With seven corners by Brazil in the first 20 minutes alone, Japan’s goalkeeper Miho Fukomoto was forced to be sharp in net weathering the Brazilian storm. Dangerous chances that seemed to suggest that the match would fall in the South American’s favor were rampant with Renata Costa shooting over the crossbar at the 16 minute mark and the ageless Formiga firing a superb shot from distance that Fukomoto had to knock over the crossbar four minutes later.
From there the Japanese seemed to come alive, with the technical and tactical genius that Shinobu Ohno and Yuki Ogimi have shown all tournament, being brought to light orchestrated by the delightful passes of Homare Sawa. At the midpoint of the first half, Sawa released Ogimi, who sent a dangerous cross into Ohno. Ohno fired two shots in the sequence, one of which was blocked, while the second sailed high.
Sawa and Ogimi combined again minutes later, when Sawa sent a fantastic ball through to Ogimi, who escaped the Brazilian defense, and she clinically finished past the Brazilian keeper Andreia, sending the Japanese into a 1-0 lead, a lead in which they held to halftime.
In the second half, the Brazilians pushed for an equalizer, yet their penchant for relying on individualistic flair and brilliance was a contrast to the offensive teamwork and artistry that the reigning world champions put on display. This was none more evident when in the 73rd minute Marta was stripped dribbling through traffic in the middle third of the field, which led to the second Japanese goal. The Japanese showed their world-class ability to transition as one pass after Marta was stripped sent Ogimi ahead, and she sent a ball to Ohno on the right, who cut past a Brazilian defender and finished precisely into the top corner, sending the Japanese into a 2-0 lead that they did not relinquish.
With their performance, the Japanese have earned a berth in the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium, against France, who beat Sweden 2-1 in a game played earlier today.

Olympic Recap: Canada vs. Sweden

by Ciara McCormack

Canada-Sweden had all the makings of an exciting affair as the two teams clashed in Canadian Head Coach John Herdman’s hometown in Newcastle, at historic St. James Park. With defenders Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle declared unfit for the duration of the tournament, alternates Melanie Booth and Marie-Eve Nault were inserted into the Canadian roster, with the latter stepping right into the starting line-up in her Olympic debut. Due to Gayle’s injury, Lauren Sesselmann, who has had an outstanding tournament so far at left back, was Herdman’s choice to place next to Carmelina Moscato at center back, as Nault reclaimed the left back spot that she held in two of Canada’s games at the 2011 World Cup.

Herdman made two other changes to his starting lineup from Canada’s last match against South Africa, as Erin McLeod went back into the net replacing Karina Leblanc who was not tested much against the African debutantes. In Herdman’s other change Kaylyn Kyle was pulled from midfield, in order to insert striker Jonelle Filigno, who looked dangerous as a substitute in her first Olympic appearance against South Africa. On the Swedish side, coach Thomas Dennerby went for a more offensive lineup for the Swede’s final group game, as Kosovare Asllani, who made an impact as a substitute against the Japanese, replaced Johanna Almgren as a starter, captain Nilla Fischer returned from injury to replace Lisa Dahlkvist in the midfield. In his final change, Dennerby replaced Annica Svensson with Lina Nilsson on the wing.

While Canada looked to have the better of the play in the opening minutes, including a big chance for forward Melissa Tancredi in the box in the seventh minute, it was Sweden who struck first. Nilsson made good of her start, sending in a great cross from the right that Marie Hammarstrom finished past McLeod, sending the Scandinavians into a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute of the match. Before the Canadians had a chance to regroup, Hammarstrom again made her presence in the match felt, as she made a great run down the left. McLeod showed her penchant for at times being too eager on crosses, and only getting her fingertips to the ball, Sofia Jakobsson had an easy finish into goal that sent the Swedes into a shock lead, based on the run of play.

The Canadians stayed collected, and for those observing the game, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before they would be rewarded with a goal. And the goal came just minutes before the end of the half, as Rhian Wilkinson showed a delightful bit of skill, making a run down the right, combining with Christine Sinclair to send a beautiful swerving cross into the box. Tancredi would not let the opportunity by her, and through sheer will sent the ball off her body into the back of the net, cutting the score to 2-1 and revitalizing the Canadian side going into the half.

The Canadians came out in the second half doing a great job keeping their defensive shape, winning the ball high up the field, and not letting the Swedes create much danger. Sweden’s issues resembled those of the Canadian side in the first 2 games, where Lotta Schelin seemed to be isolated with little help, and a lack of cohesion between the Swedish midfield and attack left little to be desired in the way of many Swedish chances. The two biggest chances Sweden had in the second half came not surprisingly, via their top striker Schelin. One chance came off the foot of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl who almost sent Schelin into the clear off of her punt in the 58th minute. Schelin was guarded closely by center back Carmelina Moscato, who did a wonderful job for the Canadians throughout the game, both in distribution and organization. Despite Schelin’s pleas for a foul just outside the box on the play, the referee waived play on. The Swedes had a chance to increase the scoreline as Schelin did a great job of freeing up space on the left side in the 80th minute, laying a ball into Almgren, who finished just wide. Her miss set up the heroics of Tancredi four minutes later, who scored her fourth of Canada’s six goals at the Olympics. Tancredi asserted her immense ability finishing crosses, as she dove to head a great cross from Sinclair, and in doing so, gave the Canadians a much deserved tie.

With Japan’s surprise scoreless draw against the South Africans, Sweden tops the group. The tie was enough to send Canada through to the quarterfinals as one of the top third place finishers.

Olympic Recap: Day Two

by  Tiffany Weimer

Luckily for the athletes, today’s games weren’t overshadowed by anything going on off the field, so here are some of the things that happened on the field:

U.S. vs. Colombia

Abby Wambach was on the receiving end of a sucker punch by Colombia’s Lady Andrade, which occurred away from the run of play.

While Twitter provided many jokes about how Lady wasn’t very lady-like, I look at it as a sign of things to come.

As Ireland’s Katie Taylor (5x World Champion boxer) has shown, soccer and boxing go together like … lamb and tuna fish… or perhaps you’d prefer spaghetti and meatballs?

Lady Andrade, you’re not fooling anyone. We know what’s next for you.

Anyway, the U.S. beat Colombia 3-0 with goals from Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd. However, the Colombians were impressive. It is rare to see a team play confident, fearless soccer against the U.S. these days.

The U.S. stepped up their game when it mattered. With a different starting lineup from the game against France, Heather O’Reilly and Heather Mitts made their first starts of the tournament.

The luxury the U.S. team has over most others is the extreme depth of their bench. There aren’t many teams that can toy with their lineup and still come out with a win.

Megan Rapinoe scored the first goal of the match in the 33rd minute off a well-placed shot over goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda who was a bit out of position.

Not allowing that goal in the 33rd minute definitely would have changed things for Colombia, especially because it was the result of a bad giveaway in the back.

The U.S. didn’t get on the board again until the 73rd minute when Wambach combined with substitute Tobin Heath to get the ball between two Colombia defenders. Armed with pure determination, she slid to get the ball far post before anyone else could touch it, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

The final goal of the match, one of the best of the tournament, came off some great off the ball running by Lloyd. The U.S. was playing one and two touch soccer as Lloyd started the play and got on the receiving end of a perfectly timed through ball from Rapinoe to add her second goal of the tournament in the 77th minute.

With the win, the U.S. are now through to the quarterfinals and Colombia are unable to advance. The next game for Colombia will be purely for pride.

Canada vs. South Africa
Written by Ciara McCormack

Brazil vs. New Zealand

With Cristiane starting, most were probably expecting a ton of goals, regardless of what New Zealand brought to the table. The surprise was that New Zealand did everything in their power to not let Brazil cruise and it worked for most of the game.

There were times when New Zealand tried to attack with numbers but found them selves getting caught in transition by an extremely speedy Brazil side. Fabiana was as dangerous as I’ve seen her in recent years.

Aside from substitute Thais saving one of Marta’s shots and the announcer claiming that Bruna played for FC Gold Pride, I’d say it wasn’t as eventful as it should have been.

The lone goal of the game came in the 85th minute as Cristiane put away her second goal of the tournament (12 all-time in Olympic Games). The ball popped out to her and with a clean right-footed lob over the keeper, she secured the win for her side.

Interesting enough, the Brazilian side that have been known to be unorganized and lack focus for 90 minutes have only allowed 2 goals in the last 6 tournament matches they’ve played (2 goals to the U.S. in the 2011 WWC quarterfinals).

Sweden vs. Japan

One of the more entertaining games for soccer fans (zzzzs for most American sports fans) the Sweden/Japan game displayed some of the more enjoyable soccer on the day.

With very few balls over the top (I actually counted in the first 20 minutes there were only about 2-3 for each team) the ball stayed on the ground for the majority of the match. And unlike the U.S. vs. Colombia game, the players kept it clean and classy.

It wasn’t until the last 10 minutes of the match that Sweden resorted to a long ball over the top. Mostly because Japan did a good job of shutting down Lotta Schelin, who is the key to Sweden’s attack.

photo by Mirko Kappes

Although Japan are still one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament, they could possibly still be a little stiff from flying economy to London and that’s why there haven’t been as many goals. But one might never know.

I was impressed with Sweden’s captain Sara Thunebro and how much she got involved in the attack from her left back position.

Both teams will need to figure out a way to put the ball in the back of the net for their next matches. Sweden will have a tough challenge against Canada. The last time these two teams met was in a friendly in Sweden earlier this year and although Sweden dominated, Canada is a different team from then and Sweden have lost two starters to ACL injuries since that time.

Japan shouldn’t have a problem with South Africa.

France vs. Korea DPR

France found them selves in a must-win situation against Korea DPR today. Leaving Camile Abily on the bench, one wouldn’t think that would be the case.

The French came out slow and as though they were lacking confidence. Was the 4-2 loss to the U.S. a bit much to get over in just two days?

The very young DPR team held the ball well in spells, but counted on transitioning with a long ball over the top as their sole weapon in attack. Still, they looked to be giving France problems.

In the 44th minute France got the jolt they needed. A Louisa Necib corner kick found the head of an onrushing Laura Georges that the DPR goalkeeper could do nothing about except watch it zip past her to the back of the net.

If DPR could have prevented that last-minute goal in the first half, the second half might have looked different for them.

Once substitutes Thomis and Catala came on, the game went from a slow ballroom dance to a movie-like break dance competition.

In the last 20 minutes of the game, France scored four goals to bring the final score to 5-0. Thomis was instrumental in three of the four goals, setting up two and scoring one herself. Catala capped off the night by getting on the end of a great cross from Thomis.

With Thomis, Delie, Necib and others, this French team is capable of more than what they showed against the U.S. Thomis is extremely dangerous on the right side and in their next game against Colombia, this is weapon that must be utilized.

The only negative to take away from today is a poor decision to yellow card Sonia Bompastor for what was said to be a dive, but after watching several replays, definitely was not.

Glad she was able to laugh it off… as most of us did.

Great Britain vs. Cameroon

I was only able to watch bits and pieces of this game but what I saw was impressive from Great Britain and promising from Cameroon.

Goals from Casey Stoney, Jill Scott and Stephanie Houghton paved the way for their 3-0 victory over the African side.

For Houghton to track down a ball that was heading out of bounds in the dying minutes of the match, while already up 2-0, shows that this team might be more than we thought.

Alex Scott continues to impress as one of the best defenders in the tournament. And her pony tail looks nice.

Olympic Recap: Canada vs. South Africa

Canada 3 for 3
by Ciara McCormack

photo by Mirko Kappes

Canada walked away from their clash with South Africa with 3 goals and the necessary 3 points to keep their hopes of advancing alive. With the injury to center back Candace Chapman against Japan and Emily Zurrer still nursing a hamstring tear suffered July 12, all eyes were on who would start in the backline for Canada. Herdman went for partnering Robyn Gayle with Carmelina Moscato, while he opted for Karina Leblanc in goal, which marked the second change in the Canadian lineup from their opening tilt against Japan.

The Canadians started strongly as Diana Matheson asserted herself well in the midfield, and laid a nice ball into Melissa Tancredi that she finished to score Canada’s opening goal for the second game in a row. Tancredi’s score in the 7th minute allowed the Canadians to settle comfortably into the match.

The Canadians continued to press well with Matheson leading the charge, ringing a cross/shot off the crossbar in the 11th minute while both Wilkinson and Lauren Sesselmann were doing a great job of getting up their respective lines from their right and left back positions. South Africa, while they didn’t look too dangerous offensively, settled into the match halfway into the first half. At times the South African side looked the better one in possession, surprising for a team that at 61st in the world, is ranked 4 spots lower in the FIFA world rankings than Haiti, a team that the Canadians demolished 6-0 in Olympic qualifying play in January.

In the 33rd minute, the Canadians had a scare as a lack of communication between Gayle and Leblanc gifted South Africa a chance, which Andisiwe Mgcoyi Mgcoyi got her foot to, and hit just over the bar. With a 1-0 lead and the knowledge that goal differential could possibly come into play should they be the third place finisher in the group, Herdman no doubt demanded more goals from his team at the half.

Yet it was the South African side that were the better one at the start of the second half until Sinclair finished a cross from Sesselmann that put the Canadians firmly in the driver seat of the match just before the 60th minute. For the rest of the match the Canadians drove forward trying to pad their lead, first with Matheson ringing a swirving shot off the crossbar, before Sinclair, showed her lethal ability to finish with her second of the game in the closing minutes to finish the game 3-0 for the Canadians, and send them into their match with Sweden, brimming with confidence.

Moving forward, the Canadians will be concerned once again with who will start in the backline, as for the second game in a row, late in the match, a center back needed to be replaced, this time with Gayle going down to injury. It seems unlikely that Chapman or Zurrer will be ready for duty in a crucial match up with Sweden, a team that will place a far stiffer test to the makeshift Canadian backline.

Sesselmann put in a solid performance at center back after replacing Gayle, but should she start at center back against the Swedes, the Canadians will lose her runs down the left flank which have been an important part of the Canadians attack thus far. South Africa will look to limit the damage in their next match against the Japanese, as they face a tough challenge against the world champions who will be looking to rebound from a scoreless tie with Sweden.

Olympic Recap: Canada vs. Japan

by Ciara McCormack

Canada-Japan was an opening match that some felt had the makings for an upset. With Canada’s much heralded new coach John Herdman, the return of one of Canada’s best players Diana Matheson to a midfield that has struggled going forward and Canada’s advantage physically, some thought that the Japanese could be surprised. Yet it was a game of eery deja-vu both to their clash with the U.S. in June in Salt Lake, as well as bearing similarities to the first game of the 2011 Women’s World Cup where they faced a world power in Germany.

As in the game against the U.S., the score was 2-1 in favor of Canada’s opponents, Melissa Tancredi finished solidly in the mid 50th minute (55′ v Japan, 57′ v US), there was a miscommunication between goalkeeper Erin McLeod and defender Carmelina Moscato that resulted in a goal, and Lauren Sesselmann again played goalkeeper, making a wonderful stop off the line against the Japanese, as she did against the U.S., that may prove crucial in goal differential moving forward.

Like the 2011 World Cup in Germany, Canada was facing a worthy opponent who at times outmatched them, but who they managed to keep the scoreline close with. As Christine Sinclair left the field with a broken nose against Germany in the opening game of the World Cup, Canadian fans similarly held their breath, as Candace Chapman, a stalwart in Canada’s backline, limped off the field in obvious pain, and out of the stadium on crutches, leaving her participation for at least the rest of the opening round in doubt. When Chapman was injured in the 84th minute, Herdman had used up all of his subs, including two curious simultaneous substitutions of his outside backs in the 70th minute, that left the Canadians short a man for the duration of the match.

Photo by Mirko Kappes

The Japanese showed their comfort and skill on the ball, effortlessly switching the ball from side to side, displaying short passes, as well as spraying the ball long, causing the Canadians to spend good portions of the match chasing. In the 33rd minute they stamped their authority on the match, as FIFA World Player of the Year, Homare Sawa sent a perfect outside of the foot chip into Shinobu Ohno. Ohno then showed her skill, back heeling the ball into the path of Nahomi Kawasumi and her shot beat McLeod. Just over 10 minutes later was the collision between McLeod and Moscato who was positioned to clear the cross. Miyama headed the ball easily in to take the game into half time. After Sesselmann’s goal saving heroics in the 51st minute, Tancredi again showed her ability to finish, as she timed her run well, and finished a fantastic cross from right back Rhian Wilkinson who had gotten up the line. The Canadians fought for a tying goal as balls were aimed forward towards Sinclair, but the Japanese paid the top Canadian attacker due attention, thus negating her to ability to influence the match. The Canadians finished the match admirably with ten men on the field but a great concern moving forward will be who will replace Chapman as she crumpled to the ground in obvious pain with no contact. Emily Zurrer, another center back with Olympic experience was sidelined for the opening match due to a hamstring tear, so all eyes will be on the Canadian defense as they face South Africa who lost to Sweden 4-1. South Africa’s lone goal came from a fantastic shot by striker Portia Modise in the 60th minute.