Canada vs. France; Friday, August 12, 6 pm ET; Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo (Soccer Specialty Channel)
BEST PRIOR OLYMPIC FINISH
CAN – Bronze Medal, 2012 London Olympics
FRA – Fourth Place, 2012 London Olympics (only previous Olympic appearance)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
– Melissa Tancredi proved doubters wrong on Tuesday when she scored a decisive brace to give Canada its first ever win over Germany. Can she come out and prove herself once again? Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie, who had good chemistry together in Canada’s first two groups wins, were both rested on Tuesday, so they will have fresh legs on Friday.
– Canada’s midfield will be up against it on Friday against a very strong French midfield led by Amandine Henry, one that dominated much of the middle of the park against the U.S. last weekend.
– French forward Eugenie Le Sommer has been slightly injured this tournament but is still a dangerous goal scoring threat. Le Sommer missed France’s game against the U.S., but played almost an hour against New Zealand on Tuesday. She has two goals in this tournament so far.
– French centre back Wendie Renard was everywhere on the pitch in the group stage – in a good way. She is dominant in the air and her height and aerial prowess is always an offensive threat. Aerial balls were a problem for Canadian keeper Stephanie Labbe in Canada’s opener against Australia, but she was (for the most part) better in the air against Germany on Tuesday. France and Renard could look to exploit this uneasiness from Labbe on corner kicks and free kicks.
UNDER THE RADAR
Speaking of free kicks, both Camille Abily and Amel Majri scored beautiful free kick goals against Colombia in the group stage. Canada will have to cut out the silly fouls around the penalty area that they conceded late against Germany (ones they concede often), as France has shown they can hit a dead ball very well.
Canada and France meet up on Friday in a rematch of the 2012 Olympic bronze medal match. Four years ago, France vastly outplayed Canada for 90 minutes in that match, but came away empty handed due to a last second, against the run of play goal by Diana Matheson. France is yet to finish higher than fourth place in a major international tournament.
The two teams have met three times since that bronze medal match, one finishing in a 1-1 draw, with France winning the other two friendlies 1-0 (including their latest meeting in late July). In that latest meeting, both teams had multiple scoring opportunities, however the game was decided by – you guessed it – a free kick goal from Abily.
Friday’s quarterfinal marks the beginning of yet another knockout stage for France to prove that they have what it takes to actually win – not just play beautifully. Time and time again we have seen France have the edge on their opponents in possession, passing and attacking intent, but the goals often don’t come when they need them. Fans of Les Bleues are crying out for some killer instinct in front of goal.
As for Canada, they will be looking to continue their impressive run of form that made them the only team in the tournament to come through the group stage with 9 points. John Herdman certainly has a number of important lineup decisions to make, including his starting centre back pairing. Due to Shelina Zadorsky’s red card against Australia, and Kadeisha Buchanan’s suspension from yellow card accumulation, Canada’s centre back pairings have been inconsistent in Rio. It will be a difficult decision for Herdman to remove Rebecca Quinn from his lineup when she has come in and played so well in Zadorsky and Buchanan’s absences, but I can’t see him sitting either of Zadorsky or Buchanan for this match. Also, does Tancredi start for Canada after her brace against Germany on Tuesday?
As previously mentioned, goalkeeping will be a huge factor in this match, with Labbe and French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi both prone to occasional decision making mistakes. In fact, Bouhaddi almost had the ball stolen out from under her feet by Beckie when the two teams met in late July when she took a couple of seconds too long to get rid of it in front of goal. Both keepers are great shot stoppers, but a decision making mistake from either could write the result of this quarterfinal.