MONTREAL — Canada's women's soccer team was thrilled to finally share its gold medals with its own fans.
Adriana Leon was the lone scorer as Canada beat New Zealand 1-0 on Tuesday in the second leg of the Celebration Tour. The two-stop friendlies against New Zealand were a way to celebrate Canada's gold-medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics this past summer.
The friendly was the second match for the sixth-ranked Canadian women since beating Sweden in the Tokyo Olympics final on Aug. 6.
“Being able to share the gold medal with Canadians everywhere is a highlight,” said defender Gabrielle Carle. “I hope we made Canadians proud in those two games.”
Canada earned a 5-1 win over New Zealand on Saturday in Ottawa in the first match of the Celebration Tour. The Olympic champions received a hero’s welcome at Montreal's Saputo Stadium in the final game of the tour.
“The ambience was really good. Two minutes in all of the girls on the bench realized that,” said forward Evelyne Viens. “This is the first time my family has seen me play at home since I went pro so that was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Canada began Tuesday's friendly by dominating large portions of possession but couldn’t break through New Zealand’s defence.
It took 16 minutes of work until Janine Beckie found a clear shot on target, with Leon opening the scoring by putting away the rebound.
Canada continued to dominate the ball, often having all 10 outfielders deep in the opposing half with New Zealand's Football Ferns sitting back to avoid conceding another goal. The strategy worked as neither team would record a shot for the rest of the half.
“They made it difficult for us all game. This wasn’t the most fluid or exciting game,” said head coach Bev Priestman. “Credit to New Zealand because they were all over us.”
New Zealand showed more signs of life in the second half as they began to find possession in more attacking situations, but still failed to trouble Canada's defence.
“We’ve had good spells (of play) but we didn’t have sustained spells,” said Priestman. “We need to be more dominant in the final third. We’ve been world class in our own box now we need to be world class in theirs.”
It took almost half an hour of second-half play for either team to have a breakthrough when Jordyn Huitema found herself through on goal with Kiwi 'keeper Anna Leat stranded outside her box, but she put the ball wide.
Canada will now begin preparing for the 2023 World Cup, not having to worry about qualifiers as they and the United States have both secured sports in the tournament as CONCACAF’s top two teams.
“We have a lot of room to improve we can enjoy the last bit of celebrating the gold medal and then turn our focus to the World Cup,” said Viens. “We just need to keep working and keeping clean sheets are always important. We have a lot of room to improve.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2021.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press