Canada survived the scorching heat and an overcrowded Costa Rica defense Monday, winning 2-0 and taking first place in Group B ahead of the knockout rounds at the CONCACAF W Championship.
Jessie Fleming and Sophie Schmidt scored elegant goals as Canada improved to 3-0-0 in the eight-team tournament.
The Canadian women had plenty of opportunities to extend their lead but missed clinical finish on a steamy night at Estadio BBVA, a 51,000 seat capacity venue where CF Monterrey lives. It was 40 degrees Celsius at kick-off, which was 6:00 PM local time.
Despite the heat, the Canadians showed great stamina and creative spark against a Costa Rica team that switched to a back-five in a failed attempt to slow the attack in Canada.
“I think [Canadian] players walking off the pitch would have liked some moments back where it could have been more than two [goals]† But at the same time, I thought we created and dominated a lot. So that’s the most important thing,” Priestman said.
VIEW | Fleming’s early marker vs. Costa Rica helps Canada top group B:
Canada defeated Costa Rica 11-1 (5-1 in shots on target), according to CONCACAF.
“Overall, I thought it was a professional achievement,” Priestman said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was professional.”
Finishing first in the group means avoiding the top-ranked US, who closed the group game on Monday night with a 1-0 win against scoreless Mexico, in the semifinals. Kristie Mewis scored the winner in the 89th minute, 16 minutes after Mexico’s Lizbeth Ovalle was shown a red card.
Canada and the US have met in five of the previous 10 CONCACAF women’s finals, with the US winning all five. But the Canadians defeated the Americans 1-0 in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics to take the gold medal last summer.
Canada has ‘another gear’
Priestman believes her team is on the right track.
“The team definitely has a different gear and that’s exciting as a coach. I think we’ve come out of this third game into a much closer space where we need to be for the two games ahead of us.”
In previous group play, the Canadians beat No. 76 Trinidad and Tobago 6-0 and No. 57 Panama 1-0, while Costa Rica beat Panama 3-0 and Trinidad 4-0.
Those victories meant that both Canada and Costa Rica had already qualified for the World Cup qualifiers.
The CONCACAF tournament is split into two groups, with the top two from each advancing to the semi-finals and qualifying directly for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The two teams in third place qualify for an intercontinental play-off at the World Cup.
Winning the CONCACAF tournament will earn you a ticket to the 2024 Olympics in Paris and a berth to the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup in 2024.
The runner-up and third-place finisher will meet in an Olympic play-in series, slated for September 2023, with Olympic Games and CONCACAF Gold Cup berths at stake.
Canada and Costa Rica entered the game with the same number of wins, points, goals scored (seven) and yellow cards (one).
Canada wasted little time and took the lead in the fifth minute via a sweet Fleming.
Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan’s clearance went to captain Christine Sinclair, who deftly pushed the ball forward to Nichelle Prince. Her through ball found Fleming behind the defense and the Chelsea midfielder defeated goalkeeper Daniela Solera with a left-handed shot for her 17th goal in 103 international appearances.
Canada kept moving forward, but failed to extend their lead in the first half. The second half was more mixed, with more breaks in the game and Costa Rica managed some more possession, if not scoring opportunities.
Schmidt doubled the lead in the 70th minute after a Canadian attack on the right wing. Janine Beckie found Adriana Leon in the penalty area and the Manchester United forward turned and fed Schmidt, who defeated a defender and calmly curled a shot off the goal post for her 20th goal in 212 appearances for Canada.
VIEW | Schmidt seals Canadian victory with curling finish:
Solera stopped substitute Jordyn Huitema from close range in the 85th minute, with the ensuing rebound bouncing off several bodies and then the goal post.
Priestman made four changes to her starting lineup, with Sheridan, Jayde Riviere, Vanessa Gilles and Quinn, who bears one name.
Costa Rica was led by Captain Katherine Alvarado and Raquel (Rocky) Rodriguez, a teammate of Sinclair and Beckie on the NWSL Portland Thorns and Melissa Herrera (FC Girondins de Bordeaux, France).
On the Costa Rican bench was 36-year veteran Shirley Cruz (formerly of Paris Saint-Germain and the NWSL OL Reign).
Priestman brought in Leon and Huitema in the second half, replacing Sinclair and Prince. For 39-year-old Sinclair, the world’s all-time international goalscorer with 190, it was her 313th international appearance.
Costa Rica was able to spend some rare time in the Canadian half after the break, but failed to convert that into scoring opportunities.
Schmidt and Allysha Chapman, who earned her 90th Canada cap, came in on the hour.
The Canadian women won the CONCACAF tournament in 1998 and 2010, beating Mexico in the finals both times. The Americans have won the remaining eight editions, including the last two.
Canada has won all 15 previous encounters with Costa Rica, beating Las Ticas 49-6.
The Canadians last won 1-0 in February 2018, in the semifinals of the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Carson, California. Huitema’s goal in the 72nd minute qualified the Canadians for the Tokyo Olympics.