History has a strange way of repeating itself.
In 2011, at the World Cup in Germany, the Canadian women's soccer team were drawn into a group with the tournament favourites, an intriguing dark horse and what figured to be a clear basement dweller.
The Canadians entered the tournament on a high but that shine would soon tarnish as their confidence dissolved under the bright lights. In their first game, against Germany, few gave the Canadians much of a shot and when the powerhouse shot out to a 2-0 lead, little paid it much mind. Canada would draw one back late on a fantastic free kick from captain Christine Sinclair and leading some to conclude they had something to build on.
Of course, most know how this story ends and in their next game the wheels fully fell off. France, who many had pegged with a big question mark pre-tournament, proved they were much more than that and powered past a deflated Canada, pouring in four relatively unchallenged goals.
It was a low point for the program and it represented the beginning of the end for their previous head coach, Carolina Morace.
Post mortem, much of the focus was on the squad's confidence. Why had this seemingly capable team wilted so easily in the France game? Were they lacking the talent or had their mental toughness let them down? The discussion played a major factor in the selection of Morace's successor, John Herdman, who brought with him a team of assistants that were meant address the mental side of the game. They spent the next 10 months breaking down bad habits on the pitch and building their confidence back up away from it.
Cue the London Olympics.
Canada has once again been drawn into a group with the tournament favourite, a dark horse and a supposed also-ran. In their first game Wednesday, they faced the reigning World Cup champions Japan. Japan jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead and Canada would eventually draw one back late. The verdict's aren't in yet but you can widely assume the sentiment will again be that their lone gone has given them something to build on.
The one difference between the World Cup and the London Olympics - and it is a major one - is that instead of having to play that big question mark side next (in this case Sweden) they'll be facing off against the basement dweller (South Africa.)
If things go according to plan, it should serve as an opportunity for the Canadians to work on a few things and rebuild some of those frayed nerves from Japan's assault. It won't be a complete cakewalk, South Africa will cause them some problems with their physicality, but it should serve as stepping stone before they face Sweden in the final game of the group stage.
Before they get there though they desperately need to make some adjustments.
First and foremost will be finding ways to get Christine Sinclair some breathing room up front. Japan did what most teams will do this tournament - triple team Canada's all-time leading scorer. Whether that means pushing Diana Matheson forward more often into the attack as another option, or having Sinclair drop back regularly to receive the play, either is preferable to the hopeful kick and chase approach that was Canada's strategy against Japan.
The second will be more controversial but it needs to be said. Erin McLeod showed that she was not up to handling the starting goaltender duties. She stood frozen on her line for the first goal and she badly misplayed a cross resulting in the second. That miscue was the difference between Canada getting a point out of a difficult game, find themselves in a good position and instead now staring down the barrel in their next two outings.
If Karina Le Blanc, the former starter, is healthy (she suffered an ankle injury in May) she should get the start against South Africa. If they need to use the 'we want everyone to get a chance to experience the Olympics' line to keep things happy within the camp then they should do it. But a change does need to happen.
If they don't or won't make those two adjustments, it won't matter how many goals they pour past South Africa, Sweden will expose their holes.
With a loss to Sweden they could still potentially slip through with a third place finish, but with a match up against France looming as their reward for failure, in every practical sense, Canada would be history.
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