It's been a roller-coaster Olympics for the Canadian women's soccer team, who entered with a reasonable path to a medal but weren't able to follow it, only picking up four points from three group games and finishing third in Group F. They've had great moments (a 3-0 victory over South Africa, the comeback to tie Sweden, Lauren Sesselmann's goal-line save) and lesser ones (the loss to Japan, the wave of criticism it unleashed, the two early goals allowed against Sweden), but under most circumstances, the third-place finish they achieved would be subpar and put them in a precarious position. Thanks to results elsewhere, though, they've landed a remarkably favourable quarterfinal matchup against Britain (Friday, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern). Knocking off the home team still won't be easy, but there's a strong shot at a medal (only four teams make it through the quarterfinals stage, so a victory here would guarantee Canada a chance to play for bronze at worst) on the line. We'll see if the Canadians can step up to the challenge.
[Photos: Canadian soccer at London 2012]
Thus far, things have worked out pretty well for Canada on the offensive side of the ball. Melissa Tancredi's had a spectacular tournament thus far, leading the competition with four goals, and superstar Christine Sinclair is excelling both at scoring (she has two goals) and setting up Tancredi. The emergence of Tancredi as a scoring threat has made Canada much tougher to defend, as opponents can no longer rely just on stopping Sinclair. It's about more than just the two players who have scored for Canada thus far, though, as midfielders like Desiree Scott, Rhian Wilkinson, Diana Matheson and Jonelle Filigno have been crucial both in setting up chances and in retaining possession. This team's looked quite promising on the attack for much of the tournament, and that seems likely to carry over to Friday's match.
Defence may be more of an issue, though. Canada was missing crucial players like Candace Chapman, Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle against Sweden, and the revamped defence they were forced to employ may have been a factor in the mistakes that led to the Swedish goals. It's still up in the air if any of the injured defenders will be ready to go Friday. There are also questions remaining about which keeper to start; Karina LeBlanc played well against South Africa, but has been dogged by injuries, while Erin McLeod has looked solid at times and remarkably suspect at others. Regardless of who's on the pitch, the Canadians will need a solid defensive performance to prevail.
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What about the British squad? Well, they have some talented players. Steph Houghton, the 24-year-old who plays for Arsenal's women's team and is capable of serving as a striker, midfielder or a defender, has been one of the stars of this tournament, notching three goals in three games. Jill Scott has turned in dominant midfield performances, the defence hasn't yet allowed a goal and keeper Karen Bardsley in particular has played well. This team was really effective in the group stage, especially in their 1-0 upset of Brazil on Tuesday, and they'll be cheered on by a fervent crowd; 70,584 mostly-English fans were in strong evidence at that match. Still, this is a team that's composed of 16 players from the ninth-ranked English squad and two from 21st-ranked Scotland, and the seventh-ranked Canadians are at least their equals if not their betters in talent. Canada has a real chance to win here and play for a medal, but we'll see whether that potential will translate into an actual victory Friday.
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