Canadian women’s soccer takes down South Africa, but now the hard work begins

The Canadian women's Olympic soccer team's 3-0 win over South Africa should be able to dispel some of the concerns raised over their opening loss, but an unexpected result elsewhere in their group will make things tougher for them. The Swedish team managed to hold defending Women's World Cup champions Japan to a 0-0 draw, which leaves both of those teams on four points through two games, while Canada only has three following Saturday's victory. The Canadians will face Sweden in the final match of group action, and to add to the already-difficult challenge of facing the world's fourth-ranked team (Canada is ranked seventh), they'll now need a victory to come through in the preferred slot of second place.

There were signs Saturday that might suggest victory against the Swedes is possible, though. The Canadians overcame many of the criticisms directed against their play in the opening match, and they did a particularly solid job of maintaining possession, turning it into scoring chances and capitalizing on those chances. Christine Sinclair shone as usual, picking up a brace of goals, and her first one was particularly impressive; she delivered a great header that rang off the bar, but followed it up herself and drove the rebound home. This was more than just Sinclair, though; Melissa Tancredi's seventh-minute strike set the tone for the match, the Canadian midfield did an excellent job of controlling the ball and setting up attacking opportunities, and the defence limited opposing chances. Of course, it's easier to look good when you're going up against 61st-ranked South Africa, but there were still enough solid moments for the Canadians to feel pretty good about their performance here.

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The match against Sweden Tuesday (9:30 a.m. Eastern) will pose a challenging task, however. For one thing, the Swedes may not have been as recently dominant as Japan, but they're a strong team in their own right; that's reflected both in the world rankings and in Saturday's draw between those sides. For another, Sweden has a lot of incentive to play for a draw; presuming that Japan thumps South Africa, a draw against Canada would lock up second place for the Swedes, and that second-place slot might just provide the easiest path to the final. The Swedish team is very solid defensively, as they showed against Japan, and if they keep everyone behind the ball, they could make life very difficult for Canada. The Canadians have to go on the attack in this match; while it's still possible to advance as one of the best third-place teams, that would set up a much tougher quarterfinal matchup, and one that could potentially be against the top-ranked Americans. By far the best scenario for Canada is if they can pull off a win against Sweden Tuesday; that won't be easy, but it's certainly possible.

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