Brampton, Whitby stars ready to shine on World Cup stage: will the stars align for Canada?


Published July 19, 2023 at 11:15 am

Canada has the greatest goal scorer in international soccer history, one of the acknowledged top goalkeepers in the sport and a world class back line. The nation is also the defending Olympic gold medalist.

And yet Canada will not go into the World Cup, which begins tomorrow down under in Australia and New Zealand, as one of the favourites.

Injuries to several of its stars, including Janine Beckie and up-and-comer Jade Rose, the age (40) of iconic striker Christine Sinclair and the distraction of a pay dispute back home with Soccer Canada may have something to do with that.

Not that Canada is not being given a punter’s chance. Beyond usual favourite USA, there are probably a half dozen teams that will have a legitimate shot at claiming the prize. Canada, who has not done better than fourth at this tournament – and that was twenty years ago – is one of the teams in the mix but are in tough right from the get-go.

Christine Sinclair

Canada opens play against Nigeria in Group B Thursday night (10:30 p.m. ET) with host Australia and Ireland also in what is being coined the ‘Group of Death’ in the 32-team competition.

Last year the seventh-ranked Canadians took ten of a possible 12 points from tenth-ranked Australia and Nigeria (40), who has won Africa’s continental championship multiple times. Ireland (22) last played Canada nine years ago, while Nigeria beat Canada 1-0 at this tournament in 2011.

First up is Nigeria, who, despite ranking is a dangerous squad with some talented players, including Barcelona FC’s Asisat Oshoala, who is a two-time UEFA Champions League winner.

The last trophy was at the expense of Chelsea, which boasts Canadian stars Jessie Fleming (London) and Kadeisha Buchanan (Brampton), as well as Australian Sam Kerr, who just might be the best player in the game today.

Nigeria, it should be noted, is facing financing problems at home not unlike Canada, with reports that there are players who have not been paid in two years.

Canada plays Ireland next Wednesday (8 a.m. ET). This is Ireland’s first appearance at the Women’s World Cup but they have had some international success (they topped Australia at home two years ago) and boast Arsenal FC star Kate McCabe in the line-up.

The final pool match is against Australia (July 31, 6 a.m. ET) and Canada ‘keeper Kailen Sheridan (Whitby) – the 2022 NWSL top goalie with San Diego – and veteran defenders Buchanen, Ashley Lawrence (Caledon) and Alyssa Chapman (Courtice) will have to be sharp against Kerr and the host Matildas. Australia will have massive fan support and talented players, making them Canada’s biggest threat.

Canadian ‘keepers Kailen Sheridan (left), Lysianne Proulx and Sabrina D’Angelo in Australia preparing for the World Cup

The key to Canada’s success will start with the aforementioned back line – Bev Priestman’s team has always prioritized defending and the World Cup will be no different.

But getting the attack into high gear will be needed to win and while 14-time Canada Soccer Player of the Year Sinclair is not the same player she once was – she will sit back a bit now and help push play forward to the likes of Fleming, Jordyn Huitema (Chilliwack) and Adriana Leon (Mississauga).

Newbies Cloe Lacasse (Sudbury) and Evelyne Viens (Quebec City) will also be counted on for goals, with Lacasse potting 32 in the last season and a half in Sweden and Viens starring in Portugal for Benfica before earning a transfer to Arsenal of the Premier League.

The pay equity dispute with Canada Soccer and the lack of a domestic league has been a problem for Canada’s preparation – former national team star Diana Matheson is trying to launch an eight-team women’s professional league, with a planned kickoff for 2025 – so Priestman will have her hands full getting the team ready for the challenge.

But the Canadians are a resilient bunch with a ‘brick wall’ mentality and the goal of sending Sinclair off with the one international prize that has eluded her in a glittering career is not out of the realm of possibilities.

How realistic it is, well, we’ll find out in a month’s time.

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