Home Global Game Europe To hell with the draw: Canadian women deserve praise for group-stage perfection

To hell with the draw: Canadian women deserve praise for group-stage perfection

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Last year, at the Women’s World Cup, Canada had a chance to win its group — and, theoretically, get a better draw — if it won its third game of the tournament, against the Dutch.

Before that game, which Canada would go on to win, coach John Herdman was asked over and over about the importance of playing for the easiest draw in a tournament. And he pushed all that talk aside.

“It never goes the way you think,” he said — suggesting that if you try to manage your group stage so you get the easiest elimination game, it’s not the right approach to take. You think you’ll get the plum draw and, bam, an upset happens in another group, and you end up being drawn with the team you were trying to avoid. Basically, you worry about your own results, the draw be damned.

Going into the 2016 Olympic tournament, Canada knew that winning Group F could be a recipe for disaster. The draw had the winner of this group facing the second-place team in a group that features France and the United States in the quarter-final.

With a 2-1 win in Brasilia over the Germans — despite resting many key starters — Canada finished the Group stage with a perfect 3-0-0 record, and will get that tough 1F slot. But it all follows through on the Herdman philosophy of not trying to game a tournament draw.

Two goals from Melissa Tancredi got Canada the win over the favoured Germans.

“We have a team that will push hard to finish top of this group and continue making history like we’ve done here,” said Herdman before the match. “We have six points but we want to finish with nine, win the group and go back to Sao Paulo which has been our home stadium here in Brazil.”

But, despite the brave words, Herdman left strikers Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair on the bench; he also chose not so start fullback Ashley Lawrence and midfielder Diana Matheson, and centre back Kadeisha Buchanan served her yellow-card-accumulation suspension.

Lawrence and Matheson came in as a second-half subs.

The Germans also started a much different team than played in the 2-2 draw with Australia; scoring threats such as Alexandra Popp and Sara Daebritz were left on the bench to start the match.

In the 11th minute, fullback Allysha Chapman brought back visions of the 2015 Women’s World Cup with a rather foolish challenge just inside of the Canadian penalty area. Mandy Islacker went down, and the penalty was awarded to the Germans, which Melanie Behringer slotted home.

But the Canadians equalized in the 25th minute; midfielder Desiree Scott dove in to stop an underhit German pass, and the ball went to Tancredi, who showed some of her 2012-Olympic form with a cool finish into the corner of the German goal.

Tancredi scored the game winner in the second half, with a powerful header off a sweet free-kick delivery from Rebecca Quinn, who was in for Buchanan.

Canada got a late scare off a German corner kick, but Josee Belanger was able to lunge and clear a shot off the goal line.

Now, in the world of Canadian soccer fatalism, there will be those who treat this win like a loss; they’ll point to the tough draw. They’ll say Canada would have done better with a second- or third-place finish in the group. But that’s an anti-football mentality. It’s against everything we should hold dear about sport — you shouldn’t try to win by gaming the system, you should try to get to the top by beating all comers. Beat the teams that are put in front of you. And, for a Canadian team we all weren’t too sure about heading into Rio, we should applaud a perfect group stage.

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