Canadian women's soccer team advances to final of Algarve Cup
Victory over Iceland secures date with Brazil in championship final
Needing a win over Iceland and some help in another match from Belgium to reach the final of the Algarve Cup women's soccer tournament, Canada was under some pressure Monday.
The Canadians did their part, defeating a hard-nosed Iceland team 1-0 on a first half-goal by 21-year-old forward Janine Beckie. The Belgians did the rest, defeating Denmark 2-1.
As a result, 11th-ranked Canada will face No. 7 Brazil in Wednesday's championship game.
"An excellent performance ... I'm really proud of them tonight," said Canadian coach John Herdman. "This was a top result for our girls," he added. "To be honest, we could have had four or five (goals)."
Canada is winless (0-3-1) in its last four meetings with Brazil. The South Americans won 3-1 when they met most recently, in the final of a tournament in Natal in December.
Canada went ahead late in a first half Monday that saw them driving into the teeth of a 30 km/h wind against a 19th-ranked Iceland team that tied the U.S. 0-0 at last year's tournament.
Beckie's goal came in the 42nd minute after a nice backheel by Sophie Schmidt found Christine Sinclair slashing into the penalty box. The captain drew the defence and fed the ball to Beckie, who scored on a rising right-footed shot.
"She's a natural finisher. She's got wonderful technique," Herdman said of the former Texas Tech star, who was taken eighth overall by the Houston Dash in January's NWSL draft. "So she just brings that goal threat. And it's nice to see, different scorers doing it for Canada."
Herdman fielded a strong lineup including Sinclair, Schmidt, Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott. The starting 11 included 17-year-old midfielder Deanne Rose and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan who had a clean sheet in her senior debut.
"This was a tough match for her to debut in," Herdman said of the 20-year-old from Whitby, Ont. "Everything was on the line in terms of the final. We were brave picking her, but we said to these 'keepers they'd all get an opportunity in the first three games. She came through well under the conditions.'
No. 1 'keeper Erin McLeod is in Sweden with her new club side.
Herdman gave Ashley Lawrence, normally a midfielder, another run-out at fullback. With a roster of 18 at the Olympic Games, he is looking for as much versatility possible in his squad this summer at Rio.
"It was a huge test for her tonight ... We wanted to push her to her limits and she came though brilliantly," the coach said.
Canada lost its tournament opener 1-0 to No. 15 Denmark last Wednesday before bouncing back to defeat No. 18 Belgium 1-0 Friday on an 89th-minute goal by debutante Summer Clarke. Sabrina D'Angelo, in her senior debut, got the shutout.
Iceland previously defeated Belgium 2-1 and Denmark 4-1.
"They're a tough team to play against — elbows flying, a real physical nature," said Herdman.
It's the first action for the Canadian women since the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship last month in Texas. Canada, which booked its ticket to Rio by defeating Costa Rica in the semifinals, romped through the pool stages of that tournament before losing 2-0 to the top-ranked U.S. in the final.
The other Algarve Cup tournament group featured Brazil, No. 16 New Zealand, No. 22 Russia and No. 40 Portugal.