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STOKE-ON-TRENT, United Kingdom — Canada got a pre-Olympic confidence boost Tuesday with a 2-0 win over England in a women's soccer friendly.
Evelyne Viens and Nichelle Prince capitalized on defensive miscues and Canada blunted the England attack the rest of the way for the victory. Canada did it without captain Christine Sinclair, who did not dress after limping off the field in the first half last Friday in a win over Wales.
The eighth-ranked Canadians dispatched an in-season English team ranked sixth in the world and playing at home, albeit without fans at bet365 Stadium, the 30,000-capacity home of Stoke City of the second-tier Championship.
"To get a win and a clean sheet against England, that's really tough to do," said Canada coach Bev Priestman, an English native who was once part of the England coaching setup. "And so I'm delighted with that.
"When I first got this job, it was about scoring more goals but absolutely conceding less. That's what I had looked at against Tier 1 (opposition). So to get five goals, clean sheets across this camp, I'm just really pleased with that because it shows that we're taking that step forward."
On this day England gifted the offence, although the Canadians can take credit for pressuring it into the mistakes.
The gaffes came early and late — in the third and 86th minutes — and they proved costly.
Janine Beckie drove towards the England penalty box and sent the ball in to Viens, who hesitated because she was in an offside position. Defender Demi Stokes grabbed the ball and tried to send it to her goalkeeper only to see Viens muscle her off the ball and send it over the onrushing Carly Telford from close range.
Substitute goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was slow getting rid of the ball on a Millie Bright back pass and Prince poked the ball in with the clock winding down.
The Canadian women last beat a Tier 1 team in April 2019, defeating England 1-0 in Manchester. Since booking its Olympic berth in February 2020, Canada had gone 0-4-2 against teams ranked equal or better — outscored 9-2 along the way — prior to Tuesday.
Canadian centre back Shelina Zadorsky, who captains England's Tottenham and took over the armband when midfielder Desiree Scott exited in the second half, savoured the win but said there's more work to do.
"We want to be beating Tier 1 opposition consistently and I think that's what it takes to be a top team," said Zadorsky. "We've done it in patches but we want to be able to compete and win consistently against these quality sides.
"So I think this is such a good step forward for us. But I think it comes with humility, knowing that we need to be able to do it back-to-back-to-back. So I think we'll take all the positives, we're learn from things we can touch on. But we're in the direction we want to be and obviously the Olympics are around the corner so we have to be able to beat teams like this."
Both teams played last Friday with Canada blanking No. 31 Wales 3-0 in Cardiff and England losing 3-1 to No. 3 France in Caen.
Several Canadian players continue to put their hand up as the 34-year-old Priestman ponders the 18-woman roster she will take to Tokyo,
"(Selecting) that 18 players is really really difficult," said Priestman. "It's a great problem to have as a coach. But I also think it's a great problem for pushing players to be better. No shirt is a given and they know that. It's all about now pushing and pushing and pushing to take the best 18 players to the Olympic Games to do Canada proud."
Viens, who opened her international account against Wales, is showing the predatory skills that saw her score 73 goals in 77 games at the University of South Florida. The 24-year-old Sky Blue FC forward has earned all five of her caps under Priestman.
Vanessa Gilles, who also has five caps, has impressed at both the SheBelieves Cup and the most recent matches in the absence of star centre back Kadeisha Buchanan. A towering presence in the air, Gilles also showed good recovery skills to rescue the situation after a bad giveaway against England.
Quinn, who goes by one name, showed precise passing and combined well with Scott at the base of the midfield. Quinn can also play centre back, which adds to their appeal given the small Olympic roster.
And Beckie continues to grow in importance in the team, taking set pieces and directing the attack.
As for Sinclair, Priestman said the world's all-time leading goal-scorer had aggravated an earlier injury but will be back.
"It's just going to take some time for that inflammation and things to go down. And then Christine will be right back on the road to the Olympics."
Priestman made three changes to her starting lineup with Viens, Beckie and Allysha Chapman coming in for Sinclair, Jordyn Huitema and Gabrielle Carle.
The Canadian starting 11 came into the match with a combined cap count of 751. Barring Sinclair and Buchanan, it was probably Canada's preferred lineup.
England was without injured skipper Steph Houghton. Star fullback Lucy Bronze, who missed the France match through injury, came on in the 64th minute.
England managed some decent buildup play but the final ball or shot was lacking, prompting interim coach Hegge Riise to lament the lack of chances created.
England finished with 58 percent possession, outshot Canada 14-7 (4-3 in shots on target) and had a 9-5 edge in corners.
Riise's coaching staff included Rhian Wilkinson, a former Canadian assistant coach who won 181 caps as a player for Canada.
Canada evened its all-time record against the Lionesses at 7-7-0 and has now won three of the last four meetings although that loss was painful — knocking Canada out of the 2015 World Cup in a 2-1 quarterfinal defeat on home soil.
Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the Barclays FA Women's Super League, which is now home to Canada's Beckie (Manchester City), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea), Rylee Foster (Liverpool), Adriana Leon (West Ham) and Zadorsky (Tottenham).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2021.
The Canadian Press