GANGUE-RUZIC: What's next for the CanWNT after 2023 World Cup exit?
For the first time since 2011, the Canadian women's national team have failed to make it to the knockout stage of a World Cup, as they fell 4-0 to Australia on Monday, leaving them to finish third in Group B.
Despite entering the 2023 World Cup as defending Olympic champions, Les Rouges just couldn’t conjure up similar magic this time around, becoming the first Olympic gold medallists to exit in the group stage of a subsequent World Cup.
Not only that, but Canada also exited having struggled for portions of each game, especially tactically, while also straying from some of the team’s strengths. In a tournament that has been filled with huge tactical improvements globally, and an emphasis on younger players, Canada just didn’t seem able to keep up in either regard, and their early exit reflected that.
No doubt, there are many factors that contributed to Canada’s struggles.
Injuries are certainly one of them, as is the team’s ongoing battle with their federation for more resources to hold more camps, host friendlies, etc.. Canada played just four preparation games in 2023 alongside one a closed-door match, whereas some other teams played as many as eight or nine.
At the same time, Canada wasn't the only team struggling with those same issues. It’s made it hard to properly frame Canada’s exit, as such.
Would their tournament have gone better if those factors didn’t exist? Perhaps.
Is this also a sign of how rapidly the game is growing globally, of which Canada risks falling behind? Absolutely.
It all leads to an important question: What’s next for Canada?
This sport never rests, so Canada won’t have much time to dwell on the disappointment of their early exit. In less than two months, they’ve got a crucial pair of games awaiting, as they get set to take on Jamaica in a home-and-away series, with a spot at the 2024 Olympics on the line. As defending Olympic gold medallists, missing out here would be a massive disappointment.
Look, this is going to sting. Not just that they’ve gone out, but the fact they’ve laid *such* an egg in a match where all they needed was a draw.— Adam Jenkins (@adamkjenkins) July 31, 2023
But I don’t see how this team can be favoured in a home and away tie with Jamaica to get back into the Olympics. #CANWNT #CANXNT
Yet, while Canada’s status would suggest that this match would usually be a cakewalk, this Jamaica test promises to be a tough one. A team that Canada has beaten handily in their last three meetings, doing so by a combined score of 15-0, they’re perhaps one of the best examples of how the game is shifting globally.
Also participating in this World Cup, their second straight tournament in which they’ve played, they’ve been a fantastic story to watch, as they’ve advanced to the knockout rounds for the first time in their history.
Despite being in a group with France and Brazil, they were able to nab a draw against each of them, before doing well to round off their performance with a win over Panama, allowing them to squeak by Brazil.
Considering Jamaica got outscored 12-1 at the 2019 World Cup, finishing with zero points, it’s a remarkable turnaround to see them now exit their group having conceded zero goals, yet just a sign of how quickly teams are growing globally.
Therefore, it’s imperative that Canada approaches this home-and-leg tie with caution, as Jamaica absolutely has what it takes to cause them problems across both games.
At the same time, while they’ll want to exercise caution with how they approach Jamaica, they’ll also need to take a look at their tactical set-up, as that was a huge factor behind their struggles at this World Cup.
After finding success at the Olympics in a rigid 4-2-3-1 of sorts, they’ve continued to use that since. Understandable, given the defensive solidity that formation provides, in particular, they’ve also seen the flipside of it as of late.
From the struggles they’ve had building out of the back, to the lack of support they’ve been able to provide in the attack, it’s led them to be a lot more vulnerable in transition, as well as lacklustre in the final third.
Not only that, but the system hasn’t suited a lot of their key players, as they’ve struggled to replace key pillars of that Olympic squad who have either moved on, were unavailable this tournament, or just no longer have as big of roles as they used to.
Because of that, it’ll be imperative that Canada looks at tweaks to that system, at the very least, if not a tactical overhaul, to make the most of their players. Given that they’ve got the talent in their squad, it feels like how they deploy them will be crucial, hence the importance of those tweaks.
For example, it remains clear that they need to employ a back three of sorts, either only in possession or out-and-out.
A change that has always made sense given Canada’s strength at centre back and at full back/wing back, it only makes more sense based on how things have trended tactically this World Cup, too. Teams across the world are becoming a lot more fluid in their build-up play, and aggressive in their pressure, and the best way to keep up with that is to build-up in a three.
And given that they were missing Jade Rose this tournament through injury, that’s an easy change they could make, as her skills in possession and speed would make her a natural fit alongside Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles in a system like that, such as a 3-1-4-2.
From there, that would push full backs Ashley Lawrence and Jayde Riviere higher up the pitch, which was a big issue this tournament, as they often got pinned back with their defensive and build-up demands in a back four. Two talented attacking pieces, that kept them away from the final third, where they can often do their best work.
Plus, that wing back role could arguably also suit Janine Beckie very nicely when she returns from injury, too, as she bounced between the wing and full back in 2022 for Canada, doing well to create chances at both positions, which is a bonus.
Then, Canada could still play three in midfield, finally allowing them to build chemistry between the trio of Quinn, Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso, especially if they can deploy the latter two in front of Quinn, instead of Grosso deeper in a double-pivot, a role that stifled her creativity across this World Cup.
In particular, that would be key, as Fleming’s arguably the heartbeat of this team offensively, and would only benefit from having more support from Grosso alongside her, given what the latter showed this season for Juventus.
Lastly, that could lead Canada to try two up front, which could be worth trying given that they’ve consistently struggled in playing one up front, with that player often finding themselves isolated in games.
By playing with two, however, such as Evelyne Viens and Jordyn Huitema, could allow the pair to play off each other and the midfield, while also trying to get on the end of the crosses that the wing backs would likely provide. You add in what Deanne Rose could do with her speed, as well as Nichelle Prince and Cloé Lacass, and there are certainly options up front.
From there, they’ll need to integrate new players into the squad to freshen things up, but a formation like that could prove to be a natural fit for the likes of Simi Awujo in midfield and Clarissa Larisey up front, too, among others.
Either way, the big theme is evident across all of those potential changes - Canada needs to get younger, and more tactically flexible, fast, as teams around the world are catching up.
Lots of tactical Qs to look at going forward:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) July 31, 2023
-Need to become more press resistant in the build-up
-Midfield set-up needs to shift away from double pivot
-Attacking rotations need work
-Need to look at different combinations up front
-Need better transition defence
Certainly, they’ll also need to grow their player pool, of which a professional league will be massive towards helping, but even before then, they need to make the most of what they’ve got now, as they’ve got talent at their disposal.
Therefore, it’s crucial that they start that process immediately, as it’s one that they would be wise to fully undergo ahead of the 2027 World Cup.
Of course, qualifying for and winning the Olympics also remains a goal, but there’s no better place to start that osmosis than with that tournament, allowing them to set the wheels in motion ahead of that next World Cup, which is proving to be a key barometer for success in the women’s game.
Either way, one thing’s for sure. The level of the women’s game is rapidly growing across the world, and Canada will have a lot of work to do to keep up, both on and off the field, and this World Cup showed that.
At the same time, these sorts of moments can serve as key learning opportunities, so it’s not as if this tournament is a sign of complete doom-and-gloom, as long as Canada moves forward and grows from this.
That starts this fall, so now it’ll be interesting to see how that process goes, as it could be one that could very well determine the future of the program, making it imperative that they hit the ground running in the fall.