Canada's women's World Cup exit leaves bitter taste

Canada knows all about Sweden. Two of the pioneers of the women's game, these two have been slugging it out for decades. What we witnessed in Paris should have surprised no one who follows the game.

Team underachieves again with round-of-16 loss to Sweden

Canada's Christine Sinclair looks dejected following her team's defeat. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

I am not a fan of reruns.

If I know how it ends before it begins, what's the point? There are no surprises, no unforeseen plot twists, and no thrilling climax.

I, like you, have seen this movie too many times. A Canadian production that flopped on a global scale. We desperately wanted it to succeed. We invested time and emotion, and willed it to thrive. 

But the stars failed to shine. The script was too predictable. Ultimately, Canada flattered to deceive at the 2019 Women's World Cup.

The journey ended too soon. We weren't ready to consign another major tournament to the history books. But there it will lie, unloved and unnoticed, gathering dust until the next time.

Will there be a next time for Christine Sinclair? Only she knows. A Canadian team without its legendary captain is like bread without butter, but Sinclair will be 40 when the next Women's World Cup rolls around.

The wounds are raw and sore. Only time will allow them to heal. But the facts speak for themselves. Team Canada exited in the round of 16 because it wasn't good enough to make deep inroads into the tournament.

As a seeded team, it failed to top its group. It won the games it was supposed to win, against Cameroon and New Zealand. It was a relatively gentle introduction, but the alarm bells were ringing in my house after the Canadians lost to the Netherlands.

Familiar foe

The Dutch are a decent team, but have no World Cup pedigree. This is only the second time they have qualified. The Netherlands have never been to the Olympics, yet became European Champions, as hosts, just a year later in 2017.

Canada knows all about Sweden. Two of the pioneers of the women's game, these two have been slugging it out for decades. What we witnessed in Paris should have surprised no one who follows the game.

It was a tactical and technical stalemate. As usual, there was plenty of effort but not much finesse from both in a physical encounter punctuated by two key moments.

Canada's Sophie Schmidt comforts Ashley Lawrence after Monday's loss. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The first goal was always going to be pivotal. The Swedes grabbed it on a classic counter attack that exposed a lack of speed and awareness at the heart of the Canadian back line.

The goal naturally changed the course of the game. It allowed the Swedes to dictate and forced Canada to chase. To its credit, Canada chased gamely. Its pressure led to an errant hand, missed by the referee, but spotted by the all seeing eye of VAR (video assistant referee).

The penalty would restore parity. Every man and his dog were predicting extra time and penalties before the game between two evenly matched nations. Knock it in Christine, and trot back to the centre circle with a couple of high fives en route.

Missed opportunity

Christine? Sincy? Where are you?

In fairness, Janine Beckie took a good penalty. It just wasn't good enough. Beckie's spot kick was surpassed by an even better save from the veteran Swedish goalkeeper.

Beckie clearly felt confident in her ability, but big moments call for big characters and a cool head. 

Canada never got another clear sight of the Swedish goal. For all the energy and determination, its opponent stayed focused and resolute. The Canadian offensive service and execution lacked the quality the occasion demanded.

Frankly, we shouldn't be surprised. Despite its lofty world ranking (No. 5 ahead of France), Canada is still not a tier one nation in women's soccer.

Janine Beckie misses a late penalty. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

This was only the third time it had advanced from the group stage in seven attempts. Canada has won only eight times in 27 matches, all time, at the Women's World Cup.     

If it was Sinclair's World Cup swan song, it will leave a bitter taste for some time to come. So long as the motivation endures, not to mention that pesky world scoring record, Sinclair will be back for more with the 2020 Olympics on the horizon.

Others, too, will have decisions to make regarding their international futures. Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe is 32, and while goalies tend to have a longer shelf life, teammates Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Allysha Chapman are all heading for the twilight of their careers.

It's all hugely disappointing of course. Canada has underachieved and now we don't care who wins in France. For the record, the Americans probably will.