It was not the opening match the Canadian Women’s National Team wanted as they played to a nil-nil draw against Nigeria to start their 2023 FIFA World Cup campaign.
Head coach Bev Priestman went with a tried-and-true lineup. Vanessa Gilles was the only player for Canada that had never played in a World Cup match before.
Canada came into this match knowing Nigeria was a team that could hit quick counter attacks and did not need a whole lot of possession to do it. It was how they played against Canada when these two teams met in Vancouver and Langford last year in April.
And we saw much of that on display in they first half.
Nigeria was defensively sound and structured. While Canada held 71 per cent of possession, they found it difficult to gain any sort of penetrating run into the 18-yard box.
Christine Sinclair had an opportunity just under 10 minutes in, finding one of the few pockets of space in the box. However, the shot was high.
Most of Canada’s chances were from set pieces and trying to get a head on the ball. But Chiamaka Nnadozie never looked out of place.
The same could not be said for Kailen Sheridan. A big defensive error in the 35th minute where the ball was missed by Kadeisha Buchanan and then by the Canadian goalkeeper could have been damaging as Nigeria was able to get in behind both with possession.
But Ashley Lawrence was quick to react and save her centre-back partner. Her clearance gave Canada the time to regroup and recover.
Looking to gain something going forward, Canada brought on Cloé Lacasse to start the second half. Her presence was immediately noticed on the right as she brought much-needed innovation to that side of the pitch.
And it almost paid off immediately. Lacasse’s work rate was on display as she fought to hold a ball in play only a few minutes into the half. Her success enabled her to play in Sinclair, free in the 18-yard box. But the captain was brought down and, on VAR, was awarded a penalty.
But it was not to be Canada’s day. The penalty, taken by Sinclair, was not the best, and was saved by Nnadozie.
Evelyne Viens was also brought on for the final 30 minutes to try and add a much-needed spark in the final third. But apart from a nice shot in the 66th minute, there was little else from the Canadian women.
Deborah Ajibola Abiodun of Nigeria brought a bit of controversy in the final minute of stoppage time. An initial yellow card was upgraded to red after VAR called the referee over to the monitor.
But it was too late for Canada to use to their advantage. They got their point but left the match knowing that the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday was now a must-win.
The Canadian women face off on Wednesday, July 23, against World Cup debutant’s, the Republic of Ireland. Ireland fell 1-0 to Australia in their first match, but were commended for their tenacious play and fight in the match.