TRELLEBORG, Sweden â€” Facing its biggest challenge since last summer’s Olympics, Canada dispatched Rio runner-up Sweden 1-0 in a women’s soccer friendly Thursday.
Janine Beckie’s 34th-minute strike proved to be the difference on a cold, windy day before a crowd of just over 2,000.
“We talked about the importance of the first goal at this level and we took the advantage in the first half,” said Canadian coach John Herdman. “I thought we played some great football … Some of the combination play was as good as I’ve seen against a Tier 1 team.
“To trump Sweden here, this is a really significant result for us just in terms of momentum.”
The challenge gets bigger for the Canadian women, who won bronze in Rio. They wrap up their European tour Sunday against Olympic champion and world No. 1 Germany in Erfurt.
Canada faced the Germans twice at the Olympics, winning 2-1 in group play and losing 2-0 in the semifinal.
Canada, ranked fifth in the world, had the better of the first half Thursday but had to defend stoutly in the dying minutes as the Swedes, tied with Japan at No. 6, looked to rally. Sweden came close twice in stoppage time, but a header off a corner flashed just wide and a subsequent shot was off target.
Herdman said his team went into “game management mode” in the second half.
“We said to the team ‘Once we get to that 60th (minute) mark, just be smart, let’s manage this game.’ And to be fair, I don’t think Steph (goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe) had a save to make. I don’t know if Sweden has a shot on target, which is good to see how well the girls defended in that final third (of the game).
“I’m just really happy. Really happy.”
It was Canada’s first match since finishing runner-up at the Algarve Cup in March.
The lone goal of the game started with Deanne Rose finding captain Christine Sinclair just outside the penalty box.
Sinclair, showing sublime skill, took the ball with her right foot and popped it into the air to her left foot which she used to slice open the defence with a deft pass to Beckie. The Houston Dash forward, running towards goal while looking back like a relay runner about to accept the baton, scored with a left-footed shot low to the corner.
It was Beckie’s 15th goal in 31 appearances, moving her into ninth place on the Canadian women’s scoring list.
It also ended a 278-minute scoring drought for Herdman’s team, which had failed to find the net since March 3 in the 26th minute of a 2-1 win over Russia at the Algarve Cup.
Herdman’s starting 11 Thursday all saw action in the Olympic bronze-medal match last August. Eight started the 2-1 win over Brazil with Allysha Chapman, Sophie Schmidt and Beckie coming off the bench that day in Sao Paulo.
The three Olympic starters missing against Sweden were Diana Matheson (knee injury), Melissa Tancredi (retired) and Josee Belanger (not selected to the squad).
Thursday’s starting 11 had a combined 825 caps with Sinclair, Schmidt and Desiree Scott accounting for 539 of those.
Canada had the best of the early chances. Beckie had two shots, one a long-range chip, but both were off-target.
Schmidt, wearing a mask because of an existing facial injury, forced a fine diving save from the Swedish ‘keeper in the 21st minute after a nice setup by Sinclair.
Sinclair shot just wide in the 28th minute after good interplay between Rose and Schmidt.
“The girls were buzzing at halftime,” said Herdman.
Sweden went to its bench in the second half and offered more on attack as the game wore on, but the Canadian defence was up to the task.
Canada brought on 22-year-old Nichelle Prince for Rose in the 72nd minute. Marie Levasseur, 19, came on for Chapman in the 84th.
Schmidt took over as captain when the 33-year-old Sinclair, who won her 256th cap on the day, gave way to 15-year-old Jordyn Huitema in the 88th minute. It was Huitema’s second appearance for the senior side.
The Canadians are now 5-12-3 against Sweden but are unbeaten in the last four meetings (2-0-2).
The Canadian Press