Women's World Cup 2019: Three takeaways from Canada's group-stage loss to Netherlands
Canada has finally tasted defeat in 2019 after falling 2-1 to the Netherlands on Thursday, and things will only get tougher.
The result sees the Canadians finish the group stage of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup second in Group E, with the Dutch cementing the top spot by virtue of three straight wins. Canada's previously unblemished defensive record for the year was stained by two Dutch goals, but the game was back-and-forth in nature with the losing side having several chances to equalize.
Regardless, Canada head coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller will ask his team to move on from the defeat quickly, as the women are back in action on Monday in the round of 16. With Thursday's match being the first loss of the year for the Canadians, there are several lessons they can learn ahead of the knockout round.
With that in mind, here are three takeaways from Canada's loss to the Netherlands:
First real test
Thursday's match was by far the toughest of the group stage for Canada, and the first real test of the World Cup for Heiner-Møller's squad. After a tentative opening 20 minutes during which Netherlands enjoyed the lion's share of possession, the Canadians grew into the game and started asserting themselves more often, giving the Dutch something to think about every time they surged towards Stephanie Labbé's net.
Canada was arguably the better side in the second half, but it wasn't enough to overcome a smart, technical team as the Netherlands looked to punish every mistake.
So while the test itself resulted in failure, it provided a lot of answers that Heiner-Møller can refer to as the games continue.
Christine Sinclair has long been the face of Canada's team, and with good reason. The 36-year-old is within touching distance of the world record for all-time international goals (men or women), and her soccer IQ has raised the level of her teammates through a prosperous period in which Sinclair has become a household name.
On Thursday, she was again the focal point of Canada's attack, and she proved that she still deserves that role with a well-finished goal off a pinpoint cross from Ashley Lawrence.
A lot of talk during this tournament has been about Sinclair's pursuit of the scoring record, and her failure to score in the first two matches may have piled on even more undue pressure on the legendary forward. But now that she's got her first of the competition
- it's hard to bet against her scoring again as the games become more meaningful.
If there's an heir-apparent to Sinclair, it's Jordyn Huitema. The 18-year-old recently became the first Canadian woman to sign a professional contract straight out of high school when she inked a deal with Paris Saint-Germain, and she already has six international goals to her name despite not yet being a regular starter for Canada.
A tall, athletic striker with a nose for goal, Huitema is seen as Sinclair's successor to lead the line when the latter finally hangs up the boots. On Thursday, she lined up alongside Sinclair in a 4-3-3 formation, tasked with running the channels and being more of a provider than she's been in the past.
The teenager had her struggles in her maiden World Cup game, but also showed flashes of ability to play an unfamiliar position. In addition to helping set up Sinclair's goal, Huitema very nearly put Canada in front early with a nice finish through Netherlands goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal's legs, but was inches offside.
When Sinclair exited the match halfway through the second half, Huitema was placed in her more familiar central role, and it's no coincidence that Canada saw some of its most dangerous attacks with the youngster leading the charge.