Olympic champion Canada is one step closer to the Paris Games after a 2-0 victory over Jamaica on Friday in the opening match of a two-leg Olympic qualifier.
And a little further from the memory of a disastrous World Cup.
The Canadians had the lead for most of the night and had opportunities to increase the lead after Nichelle Prince opened the scoring in the 18th minute. Adriana León made it 2-0 three minutes into added time, celebrating her match number 100 with a cheeky pass from Gabby Carle for the 30th goal of his career as Jamaica pushed for an equalizer.
The ball is now in Canada’s court.
The second leg will be played Tuesday at a sold-out BMO Field in Toronto. Away goals are doubled in the event of a tie, with extra time and a penalty shootout available if necessary to decide the result.
SEE | Prince opens the scoring against Jamaica:
For Canada coach Bev Priestman, the performance was a welcome recovery.
“We paid a lot of attention to the mentality because I felt it was lacking and affected in the World Cup,” Priestman said after the match. “I told them to go out today and, first and foremost, show the character of this team. Football will take care of itself. We’ve been working hard on the field in that area.
Some smart roster moves and a change in formation helped.
Priestman used a 3-4-3 formation, which at times led to a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 depending on the situation.
Prince and Leon worked well up front and the formation gave Canada welcome width with Ashley Lawrence and Chloe Lacasse causing Jamaica real problems on the flanks.
SEE | León scores in added time:
Sydney Collins was a surprise starter, adding to that range in the first start and second international for the North Carolina Courage rookie.
While celebrating the victory, Priestman sounded a note of caution.
“The job is only half done and I think that has been the message to the players,” he said. “I know this Jamaican group is coming [north] and do it all, throw away the kitchen sink [at us] because the Olympic Games are at stake. AND [the] Olympic Games, not many people have the opportunity to attend.”
1st match since early elimination from the World Cup
The match was the first for the Canadians since a disastrous World Cup campaign in which the team failed to survive the group stage. Meanwhile, the Jamaicans became the first Caribbean country to qualify for a Women’s World Cup knockout round, reaching the round of 16, where they were beaten 1-0 by No. 22 Colombia.
Canada drew 0-0 with Nigeria (No. 32) and beat Ireland (No. 24) 2-1 before being eliminated in a lopsided 4-0 loss to Australia (No. 11).
The Canadians subsequently fell from seventh to tenth place in the world rankings. Jamaica rose six places to 37th after beating Panama 1-0 (55th) and drawing 0-0 (0-0) with France (5th) and Brazil (9th) to finish runners-up in their group at the World Cup .
Priestman used seven of the same starters they fielded in Canada’s last World Cup game, the loss to Australia on July 31.
SEE | Goalkeeper Steph Labbé reflects on Canada’s elimination from the World Cup:
Midfielder Jessie Fleming captained Canada with 40-year-old Christine Sinclair on the bench. The Canadian starting lineup came into the game with a combined total of 752 caps.
Jamaica was led by captain Khadija (Bunny) Shaw, a Manchester City forward and Ballon d’Or nominee who was largely kept in check.
It was 27 degrees Celsius, feeling like 33, and humid for the start of the afternoon game at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica.
Canada took the lead in the 18th minute when, after a clever pass from Leon, Lawrence beat Deneisha Blackwood down the right flank and sent in a perfectly weighted cross that Prince headed home for her 14th goal in 92 international appearances.
The Reggae Girlz had a chance to tie the score in the 34th minute after a turnover by Jade Rose. But Cheyna Williams’ shot was deflected by Vanessa Gilles. It wasn’t the first loose pass by a Canadian of the night.
Canada came out firing to open the second half and León almost made it 2-0 in the first minute after the break, only to see his shot hit a body. The Aston Villa striker then hit the crossbar from the following corner.
Jamaican goalkeeper Becky Spencer, a teammate of Canadian Shelina Zadorsky at Tottenham in England, got a leg for León’s shot in the 57th minute after Quinn, who has only one name, won the ball from a Jamaican .
Jamaica substitute Tiffany Cameron threatened in the 66th minute, but her shot went high after Canada had trouble clearing the ball.
Canada sent in Jordyn Huitema, Julia Grosso, Carle and Zadorsky as the clock ticked down.
Canada outshot Jamaica 16-11 (7-2 in shots on goal) and had 57 percent possession.
The clean sheet will be welcome after being outscored 12-5 in the team’s previous seven games this year. Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan had little to do to earn her 20th shutout in her 39th appearance, other than save a ball in the 79th minute that she might have gone wide.
Canada and Jamaica were paired in the Olympic repechage after finishing second and third, respectively, at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico in July 2022.
Canadian women have participated in the last four Olympic Games, winning gold, bronze and bronze after finishing eighth at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The Canadians were without the injured Jayde Riviere, Deanne Rose and Janine Beckie. Veteran midfielder Desiree Scott is recovering from an injury, while Allysha Chapman was unavailable due to personal reasons.
Canada had won all nine of their previous meetings with Jamaica, outscoring the Reggae Girlz 60-1. But Priestman, highlighting Jamaica’s performance at the World Cup, said this is a very different Jamaica from past editions.
The winner of the Olympic qualifying series also books their ticket to the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The loser has to qualify.
Brazil and Colombia have already qualified for the 12-nation Olympic field, along with the United States and hosts France.
- Sabrina D’Angelo, Arsenal (England)
- Lysianne Proulx, City of Melbourne (Australia)
- Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave (NWSL)
- Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England)
- Gabrielle Carle, Spirit of Washington (NSWL)
- Sydney Collins, North Carolina Courage (NWSL)
- Vanessa Gilles, Olympique Lyonnais (France)
- Ashley Lawrence, Chelsea (England)
- Bianca St-Georges, Chicago Red Stars (NWSL)
- Jade Rose, Harvard University
- Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham (England)
- Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou, Benfica (Portugal)
- Simi Awujo, USC
- Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England)
- Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy)
- Quinn, OL Reign (NSWL)
- Olivia Smith, Sporting CP (Portugal)
- Annabelle Chukwu, NDC Ontario
- Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign (NWSL)
- Chloe Lacasse, Arsenal (England)
- Adriana León, Aston Villa (England)
- Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL)
- Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns (NWSL)
- Evelyne Viens, AS Roma (Italy)