The Canadian women's national team will leave this international window brimming with confidence, having gone a perfect 2-0 with wins over Wales and, on Tuesday, England. With just a few months to go before the Tokyo Olympics, Bev Priestman's side put in one of its strongest performances in a while to take down the sixth-ranked Lionesses in a narrow 2-0 win. After an early goal from Évelyne Viens put Canada in front, Les Rouges managed to stand firm against a potent attack and, ultimately, they held on for their second consecutive victory. Nichelle Prince added the second goal for Canada near the end of the 90 minutes, using her tremendous pace to pressure the England keeper after a poor back pass. Now, Priestman has plenty to consider before she selects her 18-player squad for the Olympic tournament, with a few players making strong cases for themselves on Tuesday. Before moving on to the Olympics, though, there's plenty to dissect from a massive win over one of the best teams in women's international football. Here are three thoughts that stand out from the victory.
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Viens playing her way into the immediate plansWe'll discuss this more later at CanPL.ca, but with such a crowded Canadian player pool at the forward positions, Priestman has to make some difficult decisions with regard to who she'll take to Tokyo. That said, Évelyne Viens may well be making at least one decision for her. Viens got Canada on the board with her very early goal, and she showed some excellent attacking awareness in doing so – realizing she was well offside on the initial run, she drifted horizontally to try and get back onside, but once an England defender touched the ball, she pounced on the error and scored with an excellent finish. The 24-year-old scored against Wales as well with a great run and finish, finally displaying some of the goalscoring ability that caught Priestman's eye at the club level. With Christine Sinclair's health and longevity uncertain, Canada certainly needs a player who can dependably put the ball in the net, even if it's off the bench. Some of the other Canadian attackers, while more experienced, have struggled with finishing, especially in recent contests; in short knockout tournaments, the team will need a goalscorer in good form.
Priestman mixes up the tacticsCanada took a very different approach against England from the previous Wales match (or, for that matter, games at the SheBelieves Cup). Knowing that England might hold onto the ball and dominate possession (which they did, with 58 per cent), Priestman set up her team to absorb some pressure and win balls in the middle. The early goal was certainly an ideal start since it allowed Canada to settle into the game very quickly and threw England off its game, but nonetheless the gameplan throughout seemed to involve hitting on the counter-attack and punishing mistakes (which the Canadians did with gusto). Desiree Scott had one of her best games in a Canada shirt in recent memory, which makes sense considering her knack for winning battles in midfield. She was tenacious all afternoon, and certainly more effective in a match where she didn't need to cover much ground – rather, sit in front of the backline and engage ball-carriers. Games like these are where her greatest value to the Canadian squad lies; she certainly still has a place in the Olympic squad for games against possession-heavy opponents, although Quinn and Ashley Lawrence are much more effective in midfield when things open up more. For the second game in a row, Priestman made the second-half substitution that brought fullback Jayde Riviere on for Scott, pushing Lawrence to the middle, which gave allowed Canada to stretch things out more and find more counter-attacking opportunities against a tiring opponent.
Sparkling defensive record continuesCanada did not concede a goal in either of its two games at this camp, which is certainly an impressive feat against a top side like England. Of course, they were tested far more heavily on Tuesday than they were against Wales, but the fact that only four of England's 14 shots on the day challenged Stephanie Labbé is a good sign. Canada was dominant in defending set-pieces, with every ball in the air seeming to find a red shirt. In slow attacking moves, Canada's centre-back pairing of Shelina Zadorsky and Vanessa Gilles was able to handle every effort. The most impressive pieces of defending, though, were when Canada got caught flat-footed and England's pacey attackers bore down on the 18-yard box. Jayde Riviere, Ashley Lawrence, and Gilles all made at least one incredible tackle after tracking back over significant distance to catch up. The defensive workrate was exceptional from Canada all afternoon, which really seemed to frustrate their opponents. Against top-tier sides, it's almost impossible to go a whole game without being tested significantly a few times. Fortunately, Canada was more than up to the task on Tuesday, which is a very encouraging sign heading into the Olympics.