USA confident going into women’s soccer semi-final against rivals Canada
Vlatko Andonovski, the USA manager, said his side are “focused and confident” going into their Olympic women’s soccer semi-final on Monday with old foes Canada.
When both North America sides finished second in their respective groups to put them in the same side of the draw for the knockout stage it felt somewhat inevitable – despite tricky quarter-finals – that the teams would face off in a rerun of the 2012 semi-final at the London Olympics.
Then, in front of more than 26,000 fans at Old Trafford, the international record goalscorer Christine Sinclair gave Canada the lead three times only for USA to claw level each time before Alex Morgan’s goal in the third minute of added time at the end of extra time sent USA into the final and on the way to gold medals.
As tight as that game was and as much as it added to an already spicy rivalry, the Canadians have struggled to get the better of the US. The last time Canada beat USA was 20 years ago, in March 2001. Of the 61 games played between the two teams the US have won 51 times, lost three and seven have ended in draws.
That record does not mean there is any room for complacency, said Andonovksi. “They’re a very good team. They have very good individuals,” he warned.
The Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Krueger said: “Any time you’re playing Canada you’re going to be up for it because of the rivalry. We know they are going to bring their best and we have to do the same. We hope to bring that energy.”
The journey of the USA to this semi-final has been far from easy. They finished second behind Sweden in Group G and endured a bruising 3-0 defeat against the table-toppers in their opening game. A more familiar swaggering 6-1 victory over New Zealand was followed by a safe scoreless draw with Australia. The so-called “group of death” lived up to the billing, though, providing three of the four semi-final teams in Sweden, USA and Australia.
Once out of the group, USA triumphed on penalties against their World Cup final opponents the Netherlands after normal time ended in a 2-2 draw and the teams could not be separated in extra time. Canada’s quarter-final with Brazil also went to penalties with the game scoreless after extra time.
The rocky road of the world champions has not dimmed the threat posed to Canada, but it has given the players a smidgeon of hope. “You never underestimate the USA,” said Desiree Scott, who plays for Kansas City. “They’re one of the top nations in the world with class players front and back. But you do watch the tournament, watch games progress and think ‘Ooh, maybe this is our time,’ and that does build a bit of confidence.”
The Canada manager, Bev Priestman, who joined the Canada set-up in October, having left the England set-up where she was an assistant to Phil Neville, said: “When adversity happens teams either step up and find a new level or it can shake things in the environment. It could be one or the other. If we go in with the right mindset and believe in what we do then, whether the US turns up in the best shape possible or has a bad day at the office, I believe that we can do this.”
The Canada team are very different from the one that faced USA in 2012, said Scott, who was involved nine years ago. “All of us remember that 2012 match,” she said. “I would say we’ve developed as a programme and on the field the brand of soccer that we play has really evolved. We’re an attacking threat, we’re not just that defensive Canadian grit team where we would hope for transitions and rely on our defensive game. We have belief in ourselves. In 2012 we were playing on a hope and a prayer that we could get to [the final] but now we believe in what we can do on the pitch and believe we can get to that gold medal game.”
What keeps USA switched on for a tie they regularly win? “The importance of the game is what makes us focused and confident,” said Andonovski. “We’re very aware of the rivalry we have with this team. This is probably going to be our hardest game and we know that.”