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SoccerCanada must face Olympic reality

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 | 12:16 AM

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Canada's captain Christine Sinclair reacts after receiving her silver medal after her squad's 4-0 loss at the hands of the U.S. on Sunday in CONCACAF action. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press) Canada's captain Christine Sinclair reacts after receiving her silver medal after her squad's 4-0 loss at the hands of the U.S. on Sunday in CONCACAF action. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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The United States and Canada are going to the London Olympics. Canada did exactly what was expected of it in Vancouver. No more, no less.The Canadians should be happy with their performance, but their work is just beginning, writes Nigel Reed.
Well, what did you expect? The cream naturally rose to the top and we probably didn't need a qualifying tournament to confirm what we already knew.
 
The United States and Canada are going to the London Olympics. Canada did exactly what was expected of it in Vancouver. No more, no less.

Head coach John Herdman's team was always tipped to clinch one of the two CONCACAF qualifying berths, and accompany the American juggernaut across the Atlantic.
 
By all means enjoy the moment. Canada got the job done and the players are to be congratulated.

Every one of them will be proud Olympians, having earned the right to take their place at the 2012 Games. That's more than can be said for several pioneers of the women's game. Germany, Norway and England (who only qualified as hosts) would all gladly swap places.
 
The U.S. women will arrive in the U.K. among the favourites for the gold medal. Their Canadian counterparts certainly have a chance to advance to the knockout stages, but a place on the podium is probably one step too many.
 
Qualification was a success but it must be put into context. It is one thing to get there but quite another to be competitive on the big stage with the world's elite.
 
Please don't whine about my negativity or lack of patriotism. Nobody's 'Happy Dance' would top mine if Canada was to finally break through at a major tournament. But you and I both know we will need to temper our excitement with a healthy dose of realism when London rolls around.
 
Canada is not a bad team -- far from it. At its best, Canada can comfortably count itself among the world's top ten in the women's game. It has one of the best players in the history of the sport but it remains some distance behind the global heavyweights.
 
The Americans have claimed three of the last four Olympic gold medals and won silver in Sydney in 2000. The Japanese will fly in as world champions eager to show their triumph in Germany was no fluke. France and Brazil must also be considered medal contenders but there are only three places on the podium. 

Struggling without Sinclair
 
Christine Sinclair enjoyed playing in her hometown. Canada's captain merely underlined her status as a genuine world class striker in Vancouver. A tournament leading nine goals in five games needs no additional comment regarding her exceptional finishing ability or her leadership qualities.
 
But Canada struggles without her.

When Herdman decided to rest his captain halfway through a routine group encounter with Cuba, much of Canada's attacking punch sat with her on the bench. Fortunately Sinclair is almost always ever present, but Canada must find alternate ways to be creative.
 
While Sinclair is the star, others caught the eye during the qualifying process. Desiree "Destroyer" Scott, for example, has found her natural position. Despite her diminutive stature, the 24-year-old emerged as an effective defensive midfielder, brave in the tackle and quick to spot options ahead of her.
 
Remarkably Scott is almost the same height as another one of Canada's trusted veterans. Diana Matheson is at her best when deployed in a central midfield ball-winning position. Matheson missed Olympic qualifying through injury and Scott proved a more than able deputy. Both women should be on the plane to London.
 
Sophie Schmidt was one of the few Canadians to leave Germany with her reputation intact. She did it no harm in Vancouver by providing a commanding presence in central midfield. Schmidt is not only a great athlete, she also has the gift of versatility. Herdman has the option to use her in a variety of positions at the Olympics - a precious commodity for any coach.
 
At the back Karina LeBlanc has edged ahead of Erin McLeod as Canada's number one goalkeeper. They are the best of friends and push each other hard but Herdman has to settle on which is his number one. LeBlanc commands her penalty area with authority, she's brave when coming for the ball and extremely agile. Reliable goalkeepers are a rarity in women's soccer and Herdman is fortunate to have two at his disposal.
 
What he doesn't have is width. Canada lacks pace and skill on the flanks and that must be a concern. None of his players showed in qualifying they can take on opposing full backs and get in behind. Playing in a narrow formation worked in CONCACAF but the superior nations in London will be much more difficult to penetrate.
 
All in all Canada can be proud of what's been achieved. Herdman and his staff have worked hard to lift heads and hearts and bury the psychological scars which lingered long after the German nightmare. The smile of confidence is beginning to return.
 
Finally, a word about the fans. They were simply magnificent. They were prepared to come out, in their thousands, and support a post World Cup Canada which let down itself and a nation in 2011. The paying public was ready to forgive and forget and it bodes well for tournaments to come on Canadian soil.

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