Final Score: Canada 0-0 South Korea Goalscorers: None International Friendly
Match in a minute or lessFor the first time in 1,135 days the Canadian women's national team were back at BMO Field in Toronto on Sunday, and played out a 0-0 draw with the visiting South Korea. Canada's first goalscoring opportunity of the match came from Jordan Huitema, as she got her head on a cross from Janine Beckie just three minutes into the match. South Korea's best opportunity of the opening half came in the 29th minute, when Ji So-yun -- formerly a teammate of Jessie Fleming at Chelsea -- broke through the middle of the pitch and took a shot from distance, but it went just wide of Kailen Sheridan's net. It felt like a friendly match at times, as a lack of urgency on either team's part was a contrast to what was otherwise an exciting contest. Both sides had chances in the second half as well, including a late triple-chance from Canada that miraculously didn't cross the line, but neither would come up with the all-important goal. It was Bev Priestman's last chance to assess her side before the rapidly-approaching CONCACAF W Championship in a few weeks. While a 0-0 draw isn't ideal, a result against a difficult, resilient opponent is a good measuring stick for what's to come this summer as they try to qualify for the 2023 Women's World Cup and Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Canada missing final moment of quality in the final thirdCanada were the better team in this match, and held nearly 70% of the possession of the ball, but they were unable to turn that control of the ball into scoring opportunities for the post part. Their best chances of the match came in stoppage time of the second half, when following a corner kick fired several shots at Yoon Young-geul's net, but a series of blocks and saves prevented the ball from crossing the line. Canada had 14 attempts to South Korea's three, but only managed to get four on target. A lack of scoring isn't a new concern for Canada either, for the past couple of years they've been one of the most dominant teams in the world defensively but struggled at times to find the back of the net. The absence of Christine Sinclair may have had something to do with their inability to turn chances into goals, but that isn't the most viable excuse for a team that is expecting to win or be thereabouts in next month's CONCACAF W Championship. That tournament serves as qualification for both the 2023 Women's World Cup and Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and if Canada are to be successful they need to get more from the likes of Huitema and Adriana Leon. Both players picked up the ball in dangerous positions, and Huitema challenged for a few crosses from Janine Beckie's right wing, but ultimately the service into those players wasn't good enough. Priestman said in her post-match press conference that "it was one of those days" where she thought no matter her team tried, the ball wouldn't end up in the back of the net. "That corner at the end summarized that," she added. The Canada boss also praised South Korea's organization. They lined up in a 3-4-3 formation and sometimes had as many as seven players defending in a low block. They were also able to frustrate Canada by slowing down the pace of the match and committing the odd professional foul. While that can be annoying to play against, it's exactly what Canada can expect in their CONCACAF journey in the coming weeks. "In every sense it was a great preparation match," said Janine Beckie after the match. "In the first 20-25 minutes we had a lot of momentum going forward, and those little things kill that. You have to figure out as a team and as a player how to keep the momentum going in those moments."
Ji So-yun the focal point in versatile South Korean attacking unitAs she has done for many years, Ji So-yun was the player quarterbacking the South Korean attack on Sunday afternoon. The longtime Chelsea forward, now with Suwon FC Women, started the match at the top of a 3-4-3 formation, playing as a false nine of sorts. Not possessing the height needed to be an aerial threat, Ji spent the majority of the game playing as more of a creative force than a true striker, sometimes shifting out to one of the wings as well. With Lee Geum-min and Son Hwa-yeon on either side of her, Ji would drift back into midfield to get the ball for a teammate before running at the Canadian backline. By laying off passes to the runners on either side, or at least having the option available to her and distracting the Canadian defenders, the South Korean attackers were able to break through the opposing backline on several occasions, but struggled at times to get shots off. South Korea's best chance of the opening half came off Ji's boot, a shot from the edge of the penalty area that just missed the bottom right corner of the Canadian goal. There were even times where she would drop as far back as her own half of the pitch, getting some touches in and providing another outlet for South Korea to build out of the back. She was one of the best players on the pitch on the day, and the ability of the Canadian backline, especially Kadeisha Buchanan, to shut her down is promising. After the match South Korea head coach Colin Bell compared Ji's free role to that of the one Christine Sinclair sometimes plays. She was allowed the freedom to do whatever she needed to in order to dictate play, as Bell knows she'll put the team first. "She's earned that right because she's an excellent player," Bell said. "We gave a role where she can decide for herself, but she's always playing for the team, and everyone else can then adjust. When she's picking up the ball in those deeper areas we know we're going to keep the ball more often than not, which is obviously very important, and she had some exciting moments going forward. "Ji, just like Christine, has a fantastic sporting character, and as a coach you know she's going to do everything for the team. Her role today was excellent and she performed very, very well."
Jessie Fleming captains the side, celebrates 100th appearanceYou'd probably be forgiven if you forgot that Jessie Fleming is still only 24 years old. Already a two-time Olympic medalist, and arguably Canada's best player during the gold medal-winning campaign at Tokyo 2020 last summer, Fleming has already cemented her place among the best players to ever pull on a Canada kit. Sunday's match at BMO Field was the 100th of her senior national team career, and Fleming wore the captain's armband in place of Christine Sinclair, who didn't see the field in this match. Trusted as a real leader for Bev Priestman's side, both on and off the pitch, Fleming is the integral link between the past, present and future of the national team. She, along with Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan, were honoured during the pregame festivities for reaching the 100 game milestone for Canada, while Sophie Schmidt was also celebrated for hitting 200. The now-retired Diana Matheson was recognized for her legendary national team career as well, as was South Korea captain Kim Hye-ri, celebrating making her 100th international appearance on Sunday. Fleming started in midfield alongside Quinn and Desiree Scott, playing the familiar attacking midfield role that she's made her own over the past few years. While her performance on Sunday wasn't the world-class effort that Canadians have come to expect from their star midfielder, there were as always a few flashes of brilliance. In the first half in particular Fleming was combining well with her midfield partners, as well as the right back Lawrence, but the final moment of quality to create a goal or scoring chance was lacking for a lot of Sunday's contest. There's a good chance that the trio of Fleming-Quinn-Scott is Priestman's first-choice unit for the Concacaf W Championship this summer, and if they can tidy up the small mistakes that prevented them from unlocking South Korea's backline more regularly, they'll be just fine. Julia Grosso replaced Quinn in the second half, and after the strong year she's had, will also be a key contributor in their upcoming matches.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchKadeisha Buchanan, Canada After being honoured before the match for making 100 appearances for the national team, Kadeisha Buchanan was as steady as always in the Canadian backline.