World Cup-bound Canadian WNT still has a lot to play for at CONCACAF W Championship
Winner of tournament automatically qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics, 2024 Gold Cup
Qualification for next year's FIFA World Cup has already been secured, but the Canadian women's team still has plenty to play for at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico.
With a pair of shutout victories from its opening two games of the tournament, Canada sits in a tie with Costa Rica — who also has six points and scored seven goals — atop the Group B standings. What that means is Monday's contest between the two nations (6:30 p.m. ET) at Monterrey's Estadio BBVA will decide first place.
The top two nations in both groups at the end of the round robin advance to the tournament semifinals, but the winner of the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship will also automatically qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics and next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. The second- and third-place nations at this competition could still qualify for the Olympics, but they would have to face each other in a playoff in September, 2023 to determine who'll go to Paris.
Watch Monday's game against Costa Rica live on CBC TV, CBC Gem and OneSoccer at 6:30 p.m. ET
Should Canada finish first in Group B, it would more than likely avoid playing the top-ranked Americans in the semifinals, giving them a clear path towards the final. Before last summer's upset win over the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics, Canada went 37 consecutive matches without a victory against their closest neighbours. Overall, the U.S. leads the all-time series against Canada with an impressive 51-3-7 record.
After opening this CONCACAF competition with a convincing 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, the Canadians found the going much tougher in earning a slim 1-0 decision over Panama. Coach Bev Priestman believes Canada has to step up after suffering through a stop-start affair against the Panamanians, who used a combination of time-wasting and play-acting tactics to frustrate the Olympic champions.
"There were 74 stoppages [in play vs. Panama]. You play for 80 seconds and you stop for 80 seconds on average. That does things to rhythm and flow. It was just one of those games. The most important thing for us now is we move past that game," Priestman told reporters on Sunday.
"It wasn't perfect. It got the job done, but I think we need a game now where those sorts of antics don't disrupt our rhythm… We need an [opponent] that will suit our strengths in both defending and in attacking, and this game is where we can hopefully get our flow and kick on because we need that test now headed into the [knockout round]."
Rather than embracing the chaos and giving Panama a taste of its own medicine, Canada remained faithful to its tactical plan and committed to play expansive attacking soccer. It didn't seem like it was going to work, but then Julia Grosso scored her tournament-leading third goal in the 64th minute to break the game open.
WATCH | Julia Grosso scores again in Canada's win over Panama:
Fullback Ashley Lawrence maintains that Canada has to remain true to its style of play should it run into other nations at this tournament who will take a page from Panama's playbook.
"For us it's a process to stay focused on the things that we can control, and that's our game and what we bring, our style of play, how we can impose ourselves on the opposition… We're going to continue with that mindset throughout the tournament. That's really what has provided us with success in the past. We're just going to keep on with that mentality," Lawrence said.
Toughest test of group stage
On paper, Monday's match should be Canada's toughest of the group stage. Costa Rica, No. 37 in the FIFA world rankings, is considerably higher than Trinidad and Tobago (No. 76) and Panama (No. 57). Like the Olympic champions, the Costa Ricans enter this match on the back of two shutout wins, and have already booked their spot at next year's World Cup, so they're playing with a fair bit of confidence.
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Historically, the series between the two nations has been completely devoid of competitiveness, as Canada has won all 14 of its previous meetings against Costa Rica dating back to their first meeting in 1991. The Canadians outscored their opponents 46-6, and the Costa Ricans have never scored more than one goal in those 14 matches.
Still, Priestman is not looking past Las Ticas, who have on their roster players the calibre of Raquel Rodriguez, who is a teammate of Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and forward Janine Beckie with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL.
"They've got some good players," said Priestman. "[They've got] a strong right side that we need to take care of."