What’s on the line for Canada’s women’s soccer team against the Swedes Tuesday

It's been an up-and-down Olympics for the Canadian women's soccer team thus far. Despite some solid moments in a one-goal loss to Women's World Cup champions Japan, the team took substantial flack from Canadian media members, and even their impressive 3-0 win over South Africa wasn't completely positive thanks to the surprising 0-0 draw between Japan and Sweden. That means that Canada's match against the Swedes Tuesday (9:30 a.m. Eastern, Sportsnet/CTVOlympics.ca/RDSolympiques.ca) becomes even more crucial. A victory could put the Canadians into at least second place in Group F and give them an excellent shot at a medal, while a draw or a loss could mean a tremendously difficult quarterfinal matchup, and a bad-enough loss could knock them right out of the tournament.

It's likely that Canada will make it to the quarterfinals regardless of the result against Sweden, as the top two third-place teams advance, and even a Canadian loss on its own wouldn't be enough to knock them out. Canada currently leads the ranking of third-place teams with three points and a plus-two goal differential, compared to North Korea's three points with a minus-three goal differential and New Zealand's zero points and a negative-two goal differential. For Canada not to make it through despite a loss, North Korea would have to get at least a point against the top-ranked Americans and New Zealand would have to make up the goal differential against Cameroon (how much the Kiwis won by combined with however much Canada lost by would have to equal at least five). The combination of all that seems unlikely, so it's probable that the seventh-ranked Canadians will go on even if they lose to fourth-ranked Sweden. However, a victory could be crucial to providing them a better shot at a medal.

Getting to the podium in women's Olympic soccer is much more about the draw than it is about pure, isolated performance. There's one legitimately terrifying team in this tournament (the top-ranked U.S.) and then several solid ones, including third-ranked Japan, fourth-ranked Sweden, fifth-ranked Brazil and sixth-ranked France. A victory over Sweden Tuesday could allow Canada to avoid all those tough teams until the semifinals; if the Canadians place second in Group F, they'll face the runner-up of Group E. That's going to be Great Britain, largely composed of the ninth-ranked English squad, unless the U.K. can upset Brazil Tuesday, and that's the best matchup Canada could ask for. A win over the Brits would send Canada to the semifinals, and they'd then be assured of a game for either gold (if they win) or bronze (if they lose). Even facing Brazil would be less problematic than many of the other potential matchups out there. However, because of that Japan-Sweden draw, even a tie in the Canada-Sweden match would give the Swedes second place in the group and relegate the Canadians to third.

A third-place finish in the group would be much more difficult for Canada. If the U.S. dominates North Korea and New Zealand beats up on Cameroon, things are only moderately horrible for Canada; that would see the Kiwis take on the Americans and the Canadians likely face Brazil (unless they're upset by the Brits). However, if New Zealand somehow fails or North Korea does well, that would send the Canadians and North Koreans through, and match North Korea up against the Brazil-U.K. winner while relegating Canada to face the top-seeded Americans. While anything can happen in the Olympics, the U.S. is generally just a much more dominant team than Canada at this point (as evidenced by their 4-0 win over the Canadians in the final of CONCACAF's qualifying tournament), and a match against them before the semifinal round augers poorly for Canada. Even a match against the Brazilians wouldn't be easy. By far, Canada's best hope for a medal would come from beating Sweden Tuesday. They're not necessarily doomed if they can't pull that off, but their road will get much more difficult without a win.