PREVIEW: Pressure on for CanWNT as they take on Jamaica in Olympic qualifiers
Just under two months since they were eliminated from the 2023 World Cup at the hands of hosts Australia, the CanWNT are back in action this week, as they get set to take on Jamaica in a two-legged Olympic qualifier.
Following their disappointing World Cup exit, as they failed to progress from their group for the first time since 2011, it’s also a huge chance for this Canadian team to bounce back in a competitive setting.
Especially given their past success at the Olympics, including their historic gold medal at the 2021 edition, anything but qualification to the 2024 Paris Olympics will be seen as a failure.
Because of that, it’s put all sorts of pressure on Canada as they get set to take on Jamaica in this tie. A team they’ve historically done well against, they’ll be in tough to replicate that sort of past success, as these Reggae Girlz have grown a lot in recent years.
They showed that this past World Cup, where they made it to the Round of 16 for the first time in their history, having managed to find a way to progress from a group with France, Brazil and Panama.
As a result, they’re entering these Olympic qualifiers with one thing on their mind, and that’s booking a spot at their first-ever Olympic tournament for next summer, building off the momentum from their exploits at the World Cup.
Safe to say, this tie has a lot at stake for both teams, and that should hopefully be reflected across both games.
A crucial two-legged series awaits:
To begin, however, it’s worth noting how this tie came about, as usually, Olympic qualifying looks a lot different from this.
Before, it’d be determined through a tournament at a centralized location, in which eight teams would participate in a group stage and knockout format. Split into two groups of four, the top two teams from each group would reach the semi-finals, where they’d have to win to book a spot in the Olympics.
Now, however, with the creation of a W Gold Cup, that has left the Concacaf calendar too congested for this tournament, so they tweaked things ahead of the 2024 edition. Instead, they combined Olympic qualifying into the Concacaf Championships, which also served as World Cup qualifying.
The Concacaf W Gold Cup is coming in 2024!— Concacaf W (@ConcacafW) March 8, 2023
Concacaf announces dates and format for inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup 🔗 https://t.co/B2c6k14CMH
Concacaf anuncia fechas y formato para la edición inaugural de la Copa Oro Concacaf W 🔗 https://t.co/kCTrnRcrH2 pic.twitter.com/DZbOvDYuPK
There, the top four teams all earned berths to the World Cup (while the fifth and sixth-place teams went to the Intercontinental playoff), but the top team also earned a direct spot in the Olympics, while the second and third-place teams earned the right to play each other in a playoff for the other Olympic berth.
Therefore, with the US winning that tournament after beating Canada 1-0 in the final, and Jamaica defeating Costa Rica in the third-place match, that pitted them against each other in this unique two-legged playoff.
Because of that, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out across this tie, as it’s not often that teams get to play in games like this in Concacaf, given that World Cup and Olympic qualifying is usually determined at tournaments in centralized locations.
It should make for a far different challenge, as it’s far different to plan for a home-and-away tie versus a single-game knockout, one that both teams will now look to manage.
For what it’s worth, Canada also enters this tie with a bit of an advantage - as the higher seed from the Concacaf Championships, they are hosting the second leg of this tie.
To be fair, that also means that they must first head out to Kingston, Jamaica, for the first leg on Friday, September 22nd, but if they can etch out a positive result there, they could secure qualification in front of a sold-out BMO Field crowd in Toronto on Tuesday, September 26th.
Otherwise, one last thing worth noting from this tie is that it’ll also have an impact on qualification for that inaugural W Gold Cup next summer, too, as whoever wins this tie will also book a spot in that tournament, while the loser will be dropped right into Group A of League A in Gold Cup qualifying in October.
As a result, that also means that winning this tie will also be the difference between having the ability to book friendlies in October and November, versus having to drop right into crucial home-and-away qualifiers against Panama and Guatemala in those windows, further adding to what’s at stake here.
Yet, that just shows why this tie is so important for both teams, even beyond the obvious prize of being able to book a spot at the Olympics.
Reggae Girlz looking to build off big World Cup:
No doubt, Jamaica’s confidence is at an all-time high as they head into this tie, especially off the backs of what they were able to achieve at the World Cup.
Despite entering the tournament with concerns surrounding funding, they were able to shock many with their group stage performances, as they managed to scrap their way out of their group.
A group that many didn’t give them a chance at all in, given that they were up against Brazil, France and Panama, they were able to surprise thanks to 0-0 draws against both France and Brazil, which along with a 1-0 win over Panama, was enough to see them through in second place.
JAMAICA GET 1ST WORLD CUP WIN with 1-0 victory over Panama 🇯🇲🇵🇦 Amazing for team that had to crowdsource way through tournament, yet manage to get the dub. Next up: Brazil on Wednesday with spot in knockout round at stake. pic.twitter.com/2E3L1iA1EQ— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) July 29, 2023
Unfortunately, the dream came to an end there, as they were matched against an impressive Colombia side in the Round of 16, falling 1-0, but it was overall a very successful tournament for this Jamaica side.
In particular, it was impressive to see how far they’d come from the 2019 World Cup, where they were heavily outmatched in their first-ever qualification to that tournament, losing all three games by a combined score of 12-1.
To go from that to only losing one of four games, only conceding one goal along the way, shows how far this Jamaican team has come over the last five years.
The Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA), in collaboration with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and the Bob Marley Foundation, has pledged a total of $25 million to assist the senior Reggae Girlz in their two-legged Olympic Qualifying match against Canada.… pic.twitter.com/xFtuwjGgkz— Jamaica Observer (@JamaicaObserver) September 18, 2023
Yet, that shows what Canada will need to be wary of across this tie. In particular, Jamaica’s defence will be a big worry for Canada, given that Les Rouges scored just two goals at the World Cup, one of them being an own goal.
Given that Jamaica were able to go up against solid offensive sides like France, Brazil and Colombia and only allowed one goal, that shows what they can do defensively, something that could pose problems for Canada.
For what it’s worth, however, Canada should still be able to generate some chances - Jamaica did concede 5 xG across four World Cup games, so there was a slight element of fortune with their defensive performances.
At the same time, given that Canada only scored two goals despite generating 4.3 xG of their own, it’ll be one thing for Canada to get chances, and a whole other to then go out and finish them.
On the flip side, one thing Canada will be encouraged about is Jamaica’s offence, which only scored one goal at the World Cup. To be fair, they were also quite unlucky, as they had 2.6 xG, but that’s still not a lot across four games.
They do have some firepower up front, thanks to Manchester City’s Bunny Shaw, who has 56 goals in 38 Jamaican caps, but getting service to her at the World Cup was an issue given that she didn’t score and only generated 0.4 xG at that tournament.
Because of that, expect Jamaica to want to lean on the defensive side of their game across this tie, and hope to be able to give Shaw more service than they did at the World Cup. Especially against a Canadian team that slipped a bit defensively at the World Cup, conceding 4.7 xG across three games, chances could be there for Jamaica if they attack the right areas while remaining patient defensively.
As Jamaica showed at the World Cup, they can disrupt any team on their day, and they’ll now look to do so against Canada, allowing them to reach the Olympics.
The Reggae Girlz squad has been revealed for the upcoming Olympic Qualifiers against Canada 🇯🇲 pic.twitter.com/PY8C9ka2RC— Official J.F.F (@jff_football) September 14, 2023
Pressure on Canada to rebound from summer:
Yet, while Jamaica could arguably be seen as the favourites, at least based on World Cup results, it’s worth noting that all of the pressure lies with Canada heading into this tie.
The defending Olympic gold medallists, anything but a return to the Olympics will be seen as a failure, as that’ll be the bare minimum requirement that will be expected of them following that triumph.
Especially with how they bowed out of the World Cup, as they were thumped 4-0 by Australia in a must-win game, they’re going to now have to prove that was just a one-off day.
Given that they never really got going across that tournament, it’s already hard to say that is necessarily the case, but they’ve now got the chance to show that was more of an isolated struggle, with much of the same squad from that World Cup in tow.
If not, it could be truly worrying times for this Canadian team, as a loss in this tie wouldn’t just signify that teams across the world are passing Canada in the women’s game, but teams within Concacaf, too.
But that just shows why this tie is also exciting from a Canadian perspective, as they’ve also been a side that typically responds well to adversity.
You add that it’ll be their first time playing at home since April of last year, and they’ll be doing so in front of a sold-out BMO Field crowd, this will also give them the chance to feel some much-needed support as they embark on this quest, something that you’ll have to imagine they’ve missed.
Of course, that support will come with pressure, especially if things don’t go to plan, but Canada now has 180 minutes to ensure that will not end up being an issue.
Therefore, look for Canada to step up, with their key players leading the way. Following a quiet World Cup for a lot of key players, they’ll need the likes of Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Vanessa Gilles, Kailen Sheridan and company to really lead the way, in particular.
Knowing that this tie could have an impact on the next few years for this Canadian team, especially as they kick off the 2027 World Cup cycle, this will really be a chance to prove that they can be a team to watch as they begin their journey towards that tournament.
Hopefully, that’ll include a pit stop in Paris next year, but they’ll look to make that a possibility over the next week against Jamaica, starting with the away leg on Friday.