Canadian women pay for defensive errors in 3-0 loss to Japan at SheBelieves Cup

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FRISCO, Texas — Canada’s campaign at the SheBelieves Cup started and ended in disappointment.

Playing under the cloud of a bitter labour dispute with Canada Soccer, the sixth-ranked Canadian women finished 1-2-0 at the four-team tournament after an uninspired 3-0 loss Wednesday to No. 11 Japan.

Canada had rebounded from a rocky performance in a 2-0 loss to the top-ranked U.S. in Orlando last Thursday to defeat No. 9 Brazil 2-0 in Nashville on Sunday. But against a well-organized Japan, the Olympic champion Canadians looked uncharacteristically uncertain and paid for a string of defensive errors.

“For us it was a bad day at the office,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “It probably reflects the (tournament) … I think it shows where the group are at emotionally, physically exhausted. I thought we were very flat today, which is really difficult as a coach. Because you know what they can do.

“I don’t mind losing as long as we learn from it and take this moment and move forward going into April.”

The U.S. defeated Brazil 2-1 in the nightcap at Toyota Stadium to win the tournament for a fourth consecutive year and the sixth time overall.

Canada finished fourth behind Brazil and runner-up Japan with goal difference deciding places two through four.

The Canadians’ next outing is scheduled for April 11 against No. 5 France in Le Mans during the April FIFA international window. Whether it happens likely depends on whether the labour impasse can be resolved.

The Canadian women have said they will boycott the April camp if their grievances aren’t addressed. And they should be in a legal position to strike, unlike this window.

The Canadians played the tournament under protest — and the threat of legal action from Canada Soccer after briefly downing tools over their labour dispute with the governing body.

And it showed against the U.S. and Japan.

“I don’t think what you saw out there was a Canadian performance,” Priestman said bluntly. “I don’t think I’ve felt like this as a coach for the two games (against the U.S. and Japan) that I have ever in this tournament, ever in my time (in charge).”

The women want the same backing and preparation ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the men did before Qatar. Both women’s and men’s teams also want Canada Soccer to open its books and to explain why their programs are being cut in 2023.

As throughout the tournament, they wore their training tops inside-out during warmups to hide the Canada Soccer crest and purple T-shirts, symbolizing gender equality, etched with the words “Enough is Enough” during the anthems. Players from both teams wore purple tape on their wrist.

“The equal pay issue is out of my hands and that’s the tough part,” said Priestman. “But what I can control is getting us back to the basics. I can only control what happens on a football pitch … The off-the-pitch part’s there. I can’t hide from it.

“But I know that the group, myself and Canada Soccer — especially after this tournament — will be looking to do everything they can to make sure we turn up for April how we left off (2022), which was a five-game unbeaten streak and almost six other than a 93rd-minute (goal in a 2-1 loss to Brazil) at the back-end of the year.

“You look at the two contrasts and that doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve got to get back to work and be clear where we’re going.”

Once again, the entire Canadian squad posed for the pre-match photo rather than just the starting 11. It was 26 degrees Celsius at the mid-afternoon kickoff some 45 kilometres north of Dallas.

After an even start to the game, the Japanese — also 1-2-0 at the tournament — began to take control midway through the first half.

Kiko Seike opened the scoring in the 26th minute, tucking the ball under goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo after a Rikako Kobayashi pass found the Canadian defence wanting with centre back Shelina Zadorsky caught out of position. It was Japan’s first goal of the tournament.

D’Angelo was hurt on the play, colliding with Seiko going for the ball. She had to be helped off the field, not putting weight on her right leg. Kailen Sheridan, who started the first two games of the tournament, came on in relief.

There was no immediate word on the extent of D’Angelo’s injury.

Yui Hasegawa made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 41st minute after Jun Endo nutmegged Kadeisha Buchanan and was taken down by the Canadian defender at the goal line edge of the penalty box.

Canada was compromised again in the 77th minute when an unmarked Endo took a feed from Hinata Miyazawa and beat a defenceless Sheridan with a powerful shot from close-range. Japan came close to making it 4-0 in the 90th minute with the Canada defence caught short one more time. 

Japan lost 1-0 to both Brazil and the U.S. But it looked confident and composed against Canada, stroking the ball around the field.

“We knew what they were good at but we let them be good at it,” Priestman lamented.

Canada conceded three goals for the first time since a 3-0 loss to the U.S. in the final of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship in February 2020.

Canada’s all-time record against Japan dropped to 4-8-4.

Priestman made five changes to her starting lineup with captain Christine Sinclair, Evelyne Viens, Cloe Lacasse, Zadorsky and D’Angelo slotting in. For Sinclair, it was cap No. 322.

Midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, sat out for the second game in a row due to illness. Priestman has been without the injured Nichelle Prince, Jayde Riviere, Deanne Rose and Desiree Scott at the tournament.

Wednesday marked the first time meeting with Japan since a 1-1 tie in Canada’s tournament opener at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021. Japan made it to the quarterfinals in Tokyo before losing 2-1 to Sweden, which lost a penalty shootout to Canada in the final.

The Canadians finished third in their only other appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in 2021 in Priestman’s debut as coach.

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