Canada’s women’s soccer team kept a duo of strong Nigerian strikers at bay but did little else during a scoreless draw against the African team on Monday, their first since returning to home soil ahead of June’s Women’s World Cup.
“We had a good fifteen minutes, and that’s about it really,” said coach John Herdman following the match, which saw the Canadians battle not only the Nigerian’s unfamiliar man-marking system but a blustering wind during the game at TFC’s training facility at Downsview Park.
The Nigerians are a tournament dark horse. Lead by forwards Desire Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala, the Super Falcons will compete in Group D with the Americans, Australia and Sweden. It’s deemed this year’s “Group of Death.”
They also are a coach’s nightmare because of their alien man-to-man style of play, said Herdman, who oscillated between a high perch atop a parked scissor lift and his regular position on the sidelines during Monday’s game.
Setting up the training match, which saw every uninjured Canadian player on the pitch over the four quarters, was a tactical move, said the Englishman.
“We could’ve went in for a European team with a nice zonal system, but said we were going to thrown the cat among the pigeons and put them in against man-markers and a direct team.”
The Nigerians were the first to register a shot on net early in the first half, when a shot from forty yards out ricocheted off Karina LeBlanc’s crossbar.
It was Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt who had the most — and arguably best — of her team’s chances. A free kick in the first half banged off the crossbar, while a low shot following a driving run into the 18-yard box hit outside of the left post and into the side netting, early in the second half.
King City-born Adriana Leon, who will participate in her first senior World Cup come June 6, nearly directed a glancing header into the bottom left corner late in the game, but fellow striker Christine Sinclair couldn’t capitalize on a slight fumble by the Nigerian ’keeper.
The Super Falcons are one of the most physical teams Kadeisha Buchanan has ever faced, the central defender said following the match.
Buchanan, one of the only Canadian players to feature for the full 90 minutes Monday, is familiar with Nigeria’s striker Oshoala. Both played in the 2014 under-20 World Cup in Canada last year, though they didn’t face each other. Germany defeated the Canadians in the quarter-finals before besting Nigeria 1-0 to hoist the trophy.
Buchanan said she shadowed the forward, who won both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot award at last year’s tournament, and was happy the team was able to keep her off the scoresheet Monday.
It’s one of the only pluses Canada can take from the match, though Herdman said he was comfortable with the performance and did praise the team’s physicality.
Now the focus turns to nursing some new injuries back to health ahead of the friendly match against sixth-ranked England in Hamilton on Friday.
Right-backs Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault were both out injured Monday, as was striker Jonelle Filigno, who broke her nose while training down south last week. Midifielder Diana Matheson, who tore her ACL last fall before breaking her foot in March, did not dress.
England’s zonal defence will make for a more conventional match later this week, Herdman said.
“They’ll be on this blade of grass when the ball’s here, on this blade of grass when the ball’s there. It’s a lot more predictable, and that’s what we train for.”