MONTERREY, Mexico — It wasn’t pretty, but Canada got the job done on Friday by beating a stubborn Panamanian side 1-0 in the CONCACAF W Championship to qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
Costa Rica’s 4-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago earlier in the day meant beating Panama would secure the Canadians’ qualification with a group match to play in the eight-team tournament.
Number 57 Panama didn’t make it easy for sixth-placed Canada on a windy evening at the Estadio Universitario.
Canada dominated play with Panama looking to frustrate, relying on fouls to interrupt the action – often delaying ensuing free-kicks by not removing the ball.
Panamanian players also often fell with the team’s coaches training, moving around the pitch with regularity.
“It’s a great learning experience,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “Was it good enough? No. And everyone knows it. But we won… and we’re moving on.
Friday’s result secured the Canadian Olympic champion (2-0-0) a top-two berth in Group B and a place in the semi-finals, which means he will play at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The 37th Costa Rica (2-0-0) also qualified in the Canada group.
The third-placed team in each group advances to the World Cup Intercontinental Qualifiers.
Canada’s breakthrough came in the 64th minute through Julia Grosso, who opened her senior scoring account with two goals off the bench in Tuesday’s 6-0 win over 76th-placed Trinidad and Tobago. Tobago.
A Panamanian defender tried to clear a cross from Jessie Fleming only to see the ball go straight to Grosso.
The 21-year-old Juventus midfielder carefully moved the ball past a defender and pushed it home.
“Credit Julia. She stepped up and she put the ball back in the net,” Priestman said.
Canada had 69 percent possession and edged Panama 12-4 (7-2 on shots on target). Panama opted for a low block, chaining defenders on the ground.
Priestman gave Panama credit for their negative and time-consuming tactics, saying “I mean it worked.”
Canada’s coach also saw it as a sign of respect for her team. Priestman’s half-time message was one of disappointment.
“I thought the performance in the first half, we weren’t good enough,” she said.
“Our standards have dropped and I think the players would be okay with that. But in the second half I was happy with the way they came out, to get back to our level.”
The Canadians wrap up Monday’s pool game against Costa Rica to decide who will top Pool B.
That likely means avoiding the top-ranked USA, which also qualified for the World Cup, in the semi-finals.
The CONCACAF tournament also serves as a qualifier for the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.
Only the CONCACAF winner is guaranteed an Olympic berth, as well as a ticket to the inaugural CONCACAF Gold Cup, to be held in 2024.
The runners-up and third-place teams will meet in a CONCACAF Olympic play-in series, scheduled for September 2023, with the winner also qualifying for the Paris Olympics and the CONCACAF Gold Cup W.
The World Cup has 32 teams, compared to just 12 at the Olympics.
Canada qualified for seven of the previous eight World Cups, missing the inaugural 1991 event in China when the United States was the sole CONCACAF representative in the then 12-nation field.
Canada, who hosted the event in 2015, had their best showing in 2003 when they finished fourth.
After playing at the 53,500 capacity Estadio BBVA — home of CF Monterrey — in the suburb of Guadalupe on Tuesday, Canada moved to the Estadio Universitario on Friday.
Known as El Volcan (The Volcano), Monterrey’s 41,600-seat stadium is home to Tigres UANL.
Priestman made five changes to his starting lineup, adding goaltender Sabrina D’Angelo, Grosso, Shelina Zadorsky, Adriana Leon and Nichelle Prince. Janine Beckie went from front to back.
Captain Christine Sinclair, who scored her world-record 190th international goal in the tournament opener, made her 313th appearance for Canada — and her 306th start.
Canada had 71% possession in a scoreless first half, but that didn’t translate into chances to score on the edge.
The Canadians had a 6-2 shot lead (2-1 on target) as Panama defended in numbers and tried to slow play whenever they could.
Canada came close in the 19th minute when Leon’s header exploded high. Two minutes later, Panama captain Laurie Batista saw her long-range shot fly just over the Canadian crossbar.
Sandwiched by two Panamanian defenders, Prince was brought down just inside the penalty area in the 27th minute, but the potential penalty was canceled with an offside flag.
The game crashed during the video review, but nothing came of it.
D’Angelo made his first save in the 38th minute, a comfortable save from a Marta Cox free-kick well outside the penalty area.
At the other end, Prince pushed the ball wide in the 42nd after Panama failed to clear a free kick.
Priestman sent forward Cloe Lacasse and fullback Jayde Rivière in place of Sinclair and Prince at halftime.
And Leon forced an acrobatic diving save from Yenith Bailey in the 46th minute.
Jordyn Huitema and Quinn, who only have one name, replaced Canada in the 57th.
Panamanian Rosario Vargas closed with another long-range shot in the 80th that sailed just over the crossbar.
The Canadians have never lost to Panama, outscoring the 57th-ranked team 13-0 in their two previous encounters.
Sinclair scored twice the last time Canada faced Panama – a 7-0 win in October 2018 at the CONCACAF Women’s Championship that earned Canada a spot at the 2019 World Cup in France.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2022