PREVIEW: CanWNT set to cap off Christine Sinclair farewell tour on a high note in friendlies vs Australia
The CanWNT will wrap up their 2023 schedule this week, as they get set to host Australia in a pair of friendlies on December 1st and 5th.
Starting with a clash at Langford’s Starlight Stadium on the 1st, before migrating over to Vancouver’s BC Place for the second clash on the 5th, these will be two crucial games for Canada, who get to test themselves against a solid Australian side, one who dispatched them 4-0 en route to a landmark fourth-place finish at this past summer’s World Cup.
Yet, while Canada will naturally look for a bit of revenge in these games, these aren’t your typical friendlies, as Canada will mainly be focused on other things. Instead of seeking to avenge that World Cup loss, for example, or even looking ahead to the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Canada recently qualified for, this camp will be mainly about one thing - celebrating the retirement of an icon.
That, of course, is Christine Sinclair, who announced in October that she’d be retiring from the CanWNT by the end of the calendar year, marking the end of a 24-year journey representing her country.
329 caps, 190 goals, and an Olympic gold medal later, the all-time leading international goalscorer has decided to put a bow on a memorable international career and is celebrating that in these games, which have been put in her home province to commemorate that fact.
Along with the retirement of a fellow CanWNT icon and BC native, Sophie Schmidt, this will be a pair of games to celebrate their careers, which is why Canadians have already sold out the ~6000 seats at Starlight Stadium, and look on track to sell out the 55 000 at BC Place, as they take the chance to say goodbye to some all-time greats.
Therefore, while this camp will also be crucial for Canada as they get set to defend their gold medal next summer in Paris, some of the usual camp discussions will be put on hold to mark this special moment.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean that this camp will be wasted as a preparation opportunity. Far from it, as most of this squad is still battling for a spot at next summer’s Olympics, while Canada is still continuing to evolve and adapt their tactical identity to help them best compete at that tournament, so there’s still work for them to do.
Because of that, here’s a look at what to keep an eye out for as Canada balances the end of an era, while not forgetting the future, or even looking past the present.
The Last Dance 🇨🇦❤️ pic.twitter.com/qlnyLYlGwA— CANWNT (@CANWNT) November 23, 2023
An opportunity to pass the torch:
Make no mistake, this camp will be about celebrating the legacy of Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt.
That’s why both of these games will be in front of two strong crowds, as fans get to enjoy the presence of two CanWNT legends for the last time.
At the same time, this is also a chance for some new faces to announce themselves. Be it regulars who have flown under the radar, or some new faces, a game like this could present a unique opportunity for someone to catch the eye of those who will be tuning into this one to celebrate Sinclair and Schmidt.
Naturally, many will know that the likes of Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence are hugely important to this next generation, given that they’ve already stepped up big and become key leaders to this team over the last five years, but there are several players who will have flown under the radar alongside them.
Because of that, this will be a good opportunity to keep an eye on players like Vanessa Gilles and Cloé Lacasse, for example, who have become regulars for Canada over the last few years, but only have 32 and 26 caps, respectively, whereas Fleming, Buchanan and Lawrence are the three most capped players not named Sinclair and Schmidt in this squad, showing how key they’ve already become to this team.
Given how important Gilles and Lacasse will be in this next cycle, this will be a good chance to show that while they haven’t been around as long as the others, they’re ready to step up and become leaders, especially with veterans like Sinclair and Schmidt moving on.
Otherwise, this will also be a chance for some brand-new faces to show that they could push to be in the fold long-term, too.
For example, it’s worth noting that Canada actually has two brand-new players in this upcoming squad, as 17-year-old Jeneva Hernandez-Gray was included for the first time, while 22-year-old Latifah Abdu was called in at the last minute for an injury to Evelyne Viens.
They might not see the field at all in this camp, but they’ll serve as a reminder of some of the new faces who will look to step up now that Sinclair is moving on, showing that Canada should be able to thrive even despite her departure, even if it feels strange to do so at first.
Given that Sinclair will be sharing the field with someone who was born after she’d already scored 60 international goals in Hernandez-Gray, it’s just a reminder that this transition is now and truly underway, as also seen with the likes of Lacasse and Gilles.
Hungry Matildas side eager to build off World Cup:
Heading into this summer, Australia had a lot to prove.
Of course, as co-hosts of this summer’s World Cup, the pressure was always going to be on them to perform, but it felt like they had extra reasons to impress.
In particular, there was the fact that they’d never made the final four of a World Cup, and had only done so once at a major tournament in their history, doing so with a fourth-place finish at the 2021 Olympics.
Because of that, this felt like a chance for them to change that, especially when seeing that a lot of the top teams had key absences or flaws that left the field wide open.
And to the Matildas' credit, they stepped up and took advantage of that opportunity, making it to a World Cup semi-finals for the first time in their history.
Plus, they didn’t do so by sneaking there, either, as they beat Canada in the group stages, and then had to dispatch Denmark and France in the knockouts before falling to England in an entertaining semi-final.
So while they’ll wonder if they could’ve done even better than they did, they’ll feel that they finally showed that they can make some noise at a big tournament.
As a result, heading into an Olympic year, they’ll want to prove that this run was no fluke by competing for a medal at that tournament.
First, they must make it there, as they take on Uzbekistan in a two-legged qualifier in February, but they’ll be expected to get that job done, allowing them to chase a medal in Paris next summer.
Therefore, friendlies like these Canadian ones are crucial for this Australian side, as they look to build in 2024.
They’ve got a talented squad, headlined by Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Ellie Carpenter (Lyon), Hayley Raso (Real Madrid), Caitlin Foord (Arsenal), Kyra Cooney-Cross (Arsenal), Steph Catley (Arsenal), (Alanna Kennedy (Manchester City) and Mary Fowler (Manchester City), who are all between 20 and 30, so it feels like this Australian side is only hitting their primes, too.
Because of that, look for them to have a strong camp. Even though they’ll be without Kerr this window, which is a blow given that she’s their captain, star player and leading scorer, they’ve got a talented squad that can do all sorts of damage without her.
Canada saw it first-hand, as Australia’s demolition at the World Cup actually came without Kerr, who was nursing an injury in that game, so they’ll know that Kerr’s absence won’t hurt this version of the Matildas as much as it might’ve in the past.
They’ll want to remind people of that in this window, as they push to win a major tournament next summer.
Canada looking to take notes from October window:
Yet, while Canada will still hold the sting of Australia's drubbing from the World Cup, it’s worth noting that they’ve grown a lot as a team since then.
They’ve shown that in the four games they’ve played since the World Cup, as they’ve switched formations, and are trying to evolve their identity tactically.
Instead of embracing the defence-first identity they’re known for, Canada wants to be a team that plays more on the front foot, breaking teams down in possession, while remaining solid defensively, especially in transition.
As a result, they’ve shifted to more of a 3-4-2-1, and have experimented with names like Sydney Collins, Jade Rose, Sabrina D’Angelo, Emma Regan and more within that formation, trying to find some names who could fit that identity better.
And to their credit, it’s already made a difference, as they cruised by Jamaica in Olympic qualifiers in September, and had a solid showing against Brazil in a pair of friendlies last month.
There have been some growing pains with sloppy turnovers and struggling to handle counter-attacks, and there is some worry that this team may be too reliant on Jessie Fleming to make this formation work, but they’ve also shown glimpses of the team they can be long-term.
Because of that, look for them to keep building that identity, even as they celebrate the likes of Sinclair and Schmidt.
Given that it’s the only way that Canada will be able to keep up with the new rising powers in the game long-term, they know how important this process is, which is why they committed to it the way that they did, even in risky situations such as Olympic qualifiers.
Now, they’ll hope to see it really pay off by the Olympics, but until then, they’ll look to work on that side of their game, continuing in this camp.