HOUSTON, Texas — Canada knocked off Costa Rica, 3-1 in a showdown at BBVA Compass Stadium to earn a trip to the Rio Olympics in August.
Both teams played a hard-fought match and a stronger Canadian team showed they had just enough to prevail. Christine Sinclair proved that she is by far the greatest soccer talent Canada has produced. Not only did Sinclair shine with a pair of spectacular goals, but so did a number of young Canadian players which coach John Herdman and his coaching staff are grooming to be the next core of senior internationals. Left back Allysha Chapman talked about going to her first Olympic games.
“Pretty damn excited,” she said bluntly. “We’ve been working really hard for this. We were expected to qualify, but it just feels extremely great when you actually do it.”
Costa Rica was able to show that while it can present a strong challenge to the likes of Canada, players aren’t quite at the same level yet. Las Ticas were a pleasant surprise at the 2015 World Cup and especially when they narrowly fell to Brazil, 1-0 in group play.
The talent and skill for Costa Rica is present in players like Shirley Cruz, Raquel Rodriguez and Wendy Acosta who have made fantastic strides since the 2012 London Olympic Qualifying tournament in Vancouver. Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde has her players believing in themselves and it turn the soccer they are producing is getting results and pushing the advancement of the team and sport in Costa Rica. Chapman contributed to Canada’s victory on the defensive front that shut down Costa Rica’s biggest scoring threats.
“I mean they were decent, we kind of expected to shut down Rodriguez and Cruz and they don’t have a lot more than that,” Chapman said. “I think our center backs and Desi [Scott] did a great job of shutting them down and they didn’t get much joy in the attack.”
Canada was able to control much of the opening half against Costa Rica and a part from a few occasions including a run from, Melissa Herrera. Canada wasn’t under attack for the most part. The back four were able to keep the dangerous Cruz and Rodriguez in front of them. Costa Rica attacked on the flanks, but never put the ball behind the Canada back line.
“We don’t let them in behind, that’s our first goal,” Chapman said. “We also like to smash them off the front so I think we did both today pretty well.”
Canada’s bread and butter throughout the qualifying tournament has been crosses from the wing-backs on the flanks into the strikers inside the opposition box. With a target like Sinclair, it was surprising to see her left wide open on the opening goal. Costa Rica’s defensive lapse cost them and allowed Canada to settle in and control them early stages of the half.
A confident Diana Matheson showed just how important she is to Canada’s attack when fully 100 percent healthy. Matheson and Josee Belanger worked countless give-and-goes between themselves and helped create space for teammates. Matheson never really thought Costa Rica stood any chance of upsetting Canada and earning a spot at the Rio Olympic games.
“I was saying that’s the most stressful game in a four-year cycle, because it’s a one-off and anything can happen. No safety net,” Matheson said. “Today was the least stressed I’ve ever felt going into a game. I thought we would get the result and it felt pretty calm out there and it felt controlled, which is hard to do in a game like that.”
While Costa Rica didn’t make as many mistakes which saw Canada benefit from vs, Guyana, Guatemala, and Trinidad and Tobago, Las Ticas still made errors. Sinclair only needs one chance to score and it doesn’t even need to be a good chance. Sinclair’s brilliance on her second goal would not have been stopped by any goalkeeper in the game.
Other than Costa Rica’s penalty goal converted by Rodriguez, Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod was hardly threatened. Canada’s defensive presence was too strong and Costa Rica wasn’t able to generate enough offense. Going up against the U.S. will present an entirely new opposition and something Canada has yet to face in this tournament: A team that can score, defend, attack, pass the ball and play a full 90 minutes of soccer without making mistakes. Costa Rica was tough, but the U.S. is the best team in the world.
“Yeah they were the toughest team (Costa Rica) we played for sure,” said Matheson. “I think they had a tough group and some tough games, that kind of took it out of them a little bit. They’re a great team, they have a great coach and they’ve got better every year. In four years they’re going to be another challenge.”