After a long hiatus, the Canadian women’s soccer team’s celebration tour is about to begin again.
Canada will play Nigeria in an international friendly series, April 8 (at BC Place in Vancouver) and April 11 (at Starlight Stadium on Victoria Island), the day the team returns home after a five-month absence.
Matches against African nations represent the second leg of Canada’s Celebration Tour in recognition of their gold medal victory at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. The Canadians have not played at home since losing to New Zealand in Montreal and Ottawa in the first part of the celebration tour.
Four important stories to follow during Canada’s two-game series vs. Nigeria:
Christine Sinclair’s winning hero returns home
Friday’s game in Vancouver gave Canadian soccer the opportunity to accurately recognize Christine Sinclair’s world-record goal-scoring record in front of her home crowd.
The celebration was originally scheduled for April 2020 with a friendly match against Australia at BC Place, but was postponed due to a global pandemic. Sinclair, 38, hails from BC and became the all-time leading scorer in international football for both men and women, scoring his 184th and 185th goals on January 29, 2020 in Texas during the Concacaf Qualifying Tournament in Tokyo. Olympics.
At the moment, Sinclair has scored 188 goals in 308 appearances for Canada. The iconic Canadian captain was not duly honored for his goal-scoring achievement, so Friday’s celebration was long overdue. It will be held in its own province, where the women’s team has not played since 2017, making the event even more special
Coach Beve Priestman said: “The moment you were at home and with your fans, the moment you achieved something, the team could not feel what you have done throughout your career.”
“If I look at Christine, she’s in her hometown, she’s broken a record, she’s got a gold medal, she can’t share it right now. So, I think staying home and connecting with our fans is very, very special. At the same time, we will focus on where we are going. ”
Stephanie Lab’s last stand before retirement
This month will mark the final chapter in the career of Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Lab, who announced plans to retire in the spring of January.
The 35-year-old from Edmonton has recorded 43 clean sheets in 85 appearances since making his national team debut in the lab in 2008. He was a key figure in Canada’s gold medal race last summer, earning the nickname “Minister of Defense for his gorgeous and outstanding performance in Tokyo.” He was also a member of Canada’s bronze-medal team at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“The team has always built confidence on the pitch because it always has,” said Priestman. “Those big moments of laughter on his face that took the whole team forward. He was a player who made a big impact on the field for us, but he was far from the game. Big shoes have to be filled. Steve will be missed.”
Priestman has revealed that Lab will definitely take part in Friday’s game in Vancouver and has been working in his native Alberta since parting ways with his pro club Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.
Canada is preparing for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic qualifiers
The two games against Nigeria will be important tune-ups in preparation for Canada’s July CONCACAF Championship in Mexico, which serves as a qualifying tournament for both the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics in Australia and New Zealand.
Similarly, Nigeria is preparing for the African Cup of Nations this summer, which will double as a qualifier for the 2023 World Cup. For instance, Priestman hopes that Nigeria will give Canada everything it has in the next two games.
Canada are set to finish third in the Arnold Clarke Cup in England in February when they face three top-ranked nations. Canada, No. 6 at the time, drew its opening match against hosts England (No. 8). , A rare victory over No. 3 Germany and before losing to ninth-ranked Spain.
Although Nigeria are 39th in the rankings, 33 spots below Canada, Priestman sees great value in playing for a lower-ranked team because he believes they gave the Reds the hardest time of their tenure.
“I think we need to move away from the top 10 opponents,” Priestman said. “I really feel comfortable against the top 10 teams. We didn’t have that much and what I feel most uncomfortable about is when we play outside the top 10. You see when we played in the Czech Republic, Argentina, Chile – Those teams asked us a variety of questions. We improve when the game is more open as if they were against a top-tier team.
“I don’t want people to think we’re underestimating this summer. I look back on Canada’s last Olympic qualifier (in 2020), and it was tough. It’s just going to be tough in this region, so we can’t be less prepared for this summer. ”
Promising prospect Joe Burns could make his debut
All 22 members of Canada’s gold medal squad from the Tokyo Olympics have been named in Priestman’s list for the Nigeria Games.
The Canadian squad also includes goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo (nine caps), defender Sura Yeka (15), forward Chloe Lakase (five), and midfielder Sarah Stratigakis (five), Victoria Pickett (three) and Marie-Yasmin Alid. . One hat).
Joe Burns, a 20-year-old defender from the University of Southern California, got his first call-up to the senior team after captivating Canada at the recent CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championships. Burns scored two goals in the tournament in the Dominican Republic, including the winner of the third-place match against Puerto Rico that confirmed Canada’s qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica in August.
“Like Joe Burns, an under-20 player, he’s got a foothold and you don’t know he’s ever been in this environment,” Priestman said.
The Canadian coach is keen to give these seven players as much time as possible to play against Nigeria to give themselves more options for this summer’s CONCACAF Championship.
“I was foolish to bring 22 from the Olympics,” Priestman said. “I had to bring in an extra seven to expand our player pool and get them on the pitch. More like Chloe Lacas and more coming from our youth teams. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. “
John Molinaro, one of Canada’s leading football journalists, has covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to deep coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian Soccer. TFC Republic can be found Here.