The Canadian women's soccer team turned their terrific potential into a solid result, and they picked a tremendous time to do so Friday with a 2-0 victory over Great Britain. The team's Olympics had been up-and-down to this point thanks to a third-place finish in the round-robin portion of the competition, but results elsewhere aligned to give them a favourable quarterfinal matchup against Britain in a venue where they felt comfortable. Many times before, this team had wound up in good situations at major international competitions, but had been unable to convert those. This time, the Canadians fired on all cylinders and came through with their most impressive performance of the Olympics, dominating the Brits in remarkable fashion and silencing a passionate local crowd to advance to the semifinals against the top-ranked Americans.
Canada got off to a remarkable start, controlling possession and creating chances, but that hadn't always led to results before. Against Sweden, for example, the Canadians looked good early on before conceding two poor goals and having to fight from behind for a draw. Here, though, it was the red-and-white squad that got on the board first in when Jonelle Filigno did superbly well to drill home a corner kick from Sophie Schmidt. Filigno caught the ball perfectly off the bounce and volleyed it home, giving the Canadians only their second lead of the tournament. They didn't fade after that, though, and Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair bent a superb free kick around the British wall in the 26th minute to give them a 2-0 lead.
What's perhaps most amazing is that the Canadians didn't completely sit on the lead. They were still controlling possession and creating chances late in the match, and their once-leaky defence looked rock-solid against the U.K. advances. It was perhaps the biggest win for Canada against Britain since the Battle of Saint-Denis. It's reassuring for Canadian fans, too, as John Herdman's side finally looks to be living up to its potential. This was the Canadian team many fans have often hoped for, but haven't been certain that they'd ever see.
Of course, the path gets even harder from here. The Canadians are guaranteed to play for a medal now, but if they want gold or silver, they'll have to beat the top-ranked Americans in a semifinal Monday (2:45 p.m. Eastern). That match, to be played at Manchester United's famed Old Trafford stadium, should be a classic, but the U.S. is highly favoured for a reason; in addition to their No.1 world ranking and dominant showing in this tournament (four wins in four games, 10 goals for, two against), they've owned the Canadian team over the years, putting up 43 wins, three losses and five draws. Canada hasn't beaten the U.S. since 2001 and took a 4-0 drubbing from the Americans in the final of CONCACAF qualifying this January. However, they narrowly lost 2-1 to the U.S. in a tune-up match for the Olympics back in June, and as Sinclair told TSN after the win over Britain, anything can happen on a given day in soccer:
"Obviously the Americans are favoured, they're favourites to win this tournament, but we know them so well," Sinclair said. "We'll be very prepared. It's a semifinal at the Olympics; who knows what will happen?"