Monday, 21 Oct 2019

Canada enters FIFA Women’s World Cup round of 16 after beating New Zealand 2-0

Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince scored second-half goals as Canada moved into the round of 16 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup with a 2-0 win over New Zealand on Saturday.

As in the opening 1-0 win over No. 46 Cameroon, goals proved hard to come by initially for the fifth-ranked Canadians despite dominating play.

The breakthrough came in the 48th minute. A probing long ball found Prince down the left flank and the speedy forward outraced two defenders before squaring the ball for the 21-year-old Fleming to slot in her ninth goal in 68 appearances — and first at the World Cup.

Captain Christine Sinclair almost made it 2-0 soon after, but her redirect from in front went high. And Sinclair set up the 24-year-old Prince in the 72nd minute, only to have her header acrobatically steered away by goalkeeper Erin Nayler in a marvellous one-handed save.

Prince made it 2-0 in the 79th minute, poking a rebound home from close-range after Sinclair’s header hit the goalpost for the second time in the game. It was Prince’s 11th goal for Canada and first at a World Cup.

Canada is now unbeaten in 10 games in 2019 (7-0-3), tied for its second-longest such streak. For New Zealand, in its fifth World Cup, the wait for a first tournament win continues.

The Canadians controlled the first half, essentially playing keepaway with the 19th-ranked New Zealand. But 73 per cent possession in the first 45 minutes created just one good scoring chance as Canada outshot the Football Ferns 8-1 (2-0 in shots on target).

The Canadian women have never before opened the World Cup with two straight wins. And they had never beaten a confederation champion (New Zealand is the big fish among the Oceania minnows) at the tournament.

The Canadians now head 600 kilometres north to Reims, where they will face the eighth-ranked Netherlands on Thursday at Stade Auguste-Delaune to decide who tops Group E.

The European champion Dutch (2-0-0) beat winless Cameroon 3-1 earlier Saturday at Valenciennes to advance to the round of 16. England, France, Germany and Italy have also booked their ticket to the knockout stage.

Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller made one change to the team that started against Cameroon in Montpellier on Monday. Jayde Riviere, an 18-year-old making just her second start and sixth appearance, came in at fullback for Allysha Chapman, who had seen limited training action in the part of the practice session open to the media.

New Zealand went with the same lineup that lost 1-0 to the Dutch on a stoppage-time goal.

Grenoble was hit hard by thunder and lightning during the afternoon but the skies cleared for the 9 p.m. kickoff.

The 20,000-capacity Stade des Alpes, with its low roof, proved to be a boombox nestled at the foot of the mountains. The crowd, announced at 14,856, was roaring before the players took the field.

Ashley Lawrence and Janine Beckie looked dangerous down the left flank in the early going, with Beckie’s speed causing problems for the New Zealand defence. The Kiwis had problems hanging onto the ball and Canada began to take control, pinning New Zealand in its half.

There was also a tactical change around the 15-minute mark. Canada switched to a more attacking formation with Sophie Schmidt dropping into a back three, Lawrence moving into central midfield and Beckie and Riviere serving as wingbacks.

The Kiwis lost defender C.J. Bott in the 17th minute after a hard Beckie cross from close range hit her in the lower arm. A minute later, Sinclair’s header off a flick-on from a corner rattled off the crossbar. The ball went to Kadeisha Buchanan whose header hit a defender as the game of aerial ping-pong continued.

Canada moved the ball around but did not test Nayler. New Zealand defenders managed to block shots when Canadians got into threatening positions.

Stephanie Labbe had to make an important interjection in the 39th minute, punching away a cross on a rare New Zealand counter-attack.

Canada came out with purpose in the second half, with a 14-pass sequence off the kickoff that led to a Beckie shot over the bar. The Canadians continued to crank up the offence, looking for a second goal.

Canada came into Saturday’s game with a 6-1-4 record against New Zealand, with the lone loss coming in their first meeting in 1987. The two teams tied 0-0 the last time they met — in group play in Edmonton at the last World Cup in a game temporarily halted in the first half due to lightning concerns.

That match saw former New Zealand coach John Herdman — now coach of the Canadian men’s team — at the Canada women’s helm. On Saturday, former Herdman assistant Tom Sermanni was coaching New Zealand.

Sinclair came into Saturday’s game with 181 goals, three back of retired American Abby Wambach’s world record. It was her 19th career World Cup outing — and 284th senior game for Canada.

The match saw Sinclair surpass the 23,000-minute mark for Canada. She started the day at 22,950 minutes.

Canada extended its shutout streak to 423 minutes, dating back to a 2-1 friendly win over Nigeria on April 8. The Canadian women have not lost since a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the top-ranked U.S. in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship last October.

Canada came into the match with a record of 7-12-15 over seven World Cups, outscored 49-31 in those games. Sinclair had scored nine of those goals.

New Zealand, at its fifth World Cup, was looking for its first tournament victory. It came into Saturday’s game with an 0-10-3 World Cup record, although six of those losses came in their first two tournament outings (1991 and 2007).

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