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Canada defeats Costa Rica 3-0 to remain perfect at CONCACAF W Gold Cup

HOUSTON — Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky had a night to remember Wednesday, after a year she would probably like to forget.

The 31-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., scored twice from set pieces to help Canada blank Costa Rica 3-0 and remain perfect at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup with three wins and the top seeding heading into the weekend quarterfinals.

Last April, Zadorsky detailed a medical ordeal that started when she contracted COVID-19 in mid-December.

"In my own experience over the last three-and-a-half months, I have been dealing with health challenges relating to COVID, illness, fatigue and honestly every sick symptom you can name," Zadorsky wrote in a social media post.

In February 2022, Zadorsky contracted COVID again. Further testing showed she had contracted glandular fever and tested positive for celiac disease.

Restored to health, Zadorsky has found a new club home in England, joining West Ham on loan from Tottenham. And she has impressed in her two starts at the W Gold Cup, making a claim to regain a regular spot in the lineup.

"You could see the whole team celebrate the goals," said Canada coach Bev Priestman. "I think that's what Shelina means to the team."

"I felt that this tournament was a chance to let Shelina step up," she added. "And I think today she absolutely did that. She's enjoying her football where she's at now in the WSL (England's Women's Super League). Given what she's been through last year, to see her get the goals, you could see the whole team was incredibly happy."

It was a milestone 50th game in charge for Priestman, who improved to 31-9-10 since being named coach in October 2020.

Jordyn Huitema also scored for Canada, which outshot Costa Rica 12-1 (4-1 in shots on target) at Shell Energy Stadium.

The three goals all came from headers with 10th-ranked Canada profiting from its height advantage over the 43rd-ranked Central Americans. The Canadians could have added to their total but the finishing wasn't clinical at times or they tried for one pass too many.

Having won twice already, Olympic champion Canada was assured of making the quarterfinals. But the win over Costa Rica means it finishes with the best record of teams in the final eight.

The three group winners, three runners-up and two best third-place finishers qualify for the knockout stage, with the teams then redrawn according to their record. So it's No. 1 versus No. 8, No. 2 versus No. 7, No. 3 versus No. 6 and No. 4 versus No. 5.

Paraguay rallied to edge El Salvador 3-2 in the final Group C game later Wednesday.

That forced CONCACAF officials to draw lots to decide Canada's opponent -- the No. 8 team -- since Puerto Rico and Costa Rica had the same points, goal difference, goals scored and red/yellow cards.

Costa Rica was the name pulled out of a bowl in a drawing of lots that was streamed live, meaning Canada and Costa Rica will run it back Saturday in L.A.

The other quarterfinals are Brazil versus Argentina, the U.S. versus Colombia and Mexico versus Paraguay.

Should Canada win, it would face either the U.S. or Colombia in the semifinal.

The only other team at the 12-country tournament with three wins is No. 11 Brazil, which finished atop Group B at 3-0-0 with a plus-seven goal difference after defeating No. 55 Panama 5-0 Tuesday night in San Diego.

Canada, which has yet to concede at the tournament, improved its goal difference to plus-13.

No. 35 Mexico (2-0-1) topped Group A, ahead of the second-ranked Americans (2-1-0) after a 2-0 upset win Monday.

Canada hogged the ball from the get-go and went ahead in the 11th minute when Jessie Fleming's well-flighted ball into the box found the five-foot-11 Huitema, whose downward header beat a diving goalkeeper Daniela Solera for her 20th goal.

Adriana Leon, who has five goals at the tournament, turned provider in the 27th minute by floating a corner to the far post that Zadorsky headed home with the Costa Rica defence preoccupied by the nearby Huitema's aerial threat.

The five-foot-eight West Ham defender made its six goals in 97 Canada appearances in the 57th minute when she headed home substitute Olivia Smith's corner.

Priestman made five changes to her starting lineup with Zadorsky, Huitema, Gabby Carle, Simi Awujo and Clarissa Larisey slotting in.

Priestman made changes at halftime, withdrawing Fleming and Leon.

Canada earlier dispatched No. 104 El Salvador 6-0 and No. 50 Paraguay 4-0. Costa Rica lost 1-0 to Paraguay before defeating El Salvador 2-0.

The Canadian women had won all 15 previous meetings with Costa Rica, with a combined 48-6 edge in goals.

After Los Angeles, the tournament shifts to San Diego for semifinals and final at Snapdragon Stadium on March 6 and 10, respectively.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2024

The Canadian Press