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This is my least favourite type of Canadian soccer game. The do-or-die game where we are overwhelming favourites... on paper.
There's no reason this shouldn't be an easy one for our ladies. Our performance against Mexico was genuinely effortless, breezing to a 3-0 victory and never letting the hazardous Mexican attack gain any traction. We made it look laughably easy, and Canada's supremacy both technically and athletically was such that they played most of the second half at a jogging pace and still bossed the Mexicans around. As I said in the game-day thread, we looked like other, better teams usually look against us. Having disposed of the Mexicans with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer to the kneecap, we now must deal with the Costa Ricans who are nowhere near as good. If we beat Mexico by three and made it look so easy, we should beat Costa Rica by... four? Five? Even if the soccer gods frown upon us, as they did against Trinidad and Tobago, we should be able to get a victory of one type or another.
The stakes for this effortless game are so high, too. Win, and we're in the 2011 World Cup. We also advance to the final for the CONCACAF championship against the winner of Mexico - United States (i.e. the United States), but that's almost an afterthought. It's the World Cup that matters, and all we have to do is beat tiny Costa Rica. A vastly inferior team. One who has never beaten our women's team in all its history. One which barely beat Haiti and Guatemala (friggin' Guatemala! If eleven of us got together we could beat Guatemala!) and got punched in the proverbial ovaries by the Americans. If you want to watch the ladies in Germany book your tickets now while they're cheap: there's no risk of them being wasted. This is going to be easy.
So easy that it's terrifying.
Maybe I'm just not used to being the favourite. By habit I cheer for teams that lose, and when my team ought to win I find myself half-convinced they're going to blow it. All I know is that unless Canada goes up by five or six, I'm going to watch that webcast gnawing my fingers down to stumps.
I've watched very little of the Costa Rican women's team, you will be astonished to hear. Don't look to me for expert analysis, but I'll tell you what I can. The Costa Ricans are reasonably talented and by no means a Trinidad and Tobago-style hoof it and hope team. They can move the ball, at least against teams that give them plenty of space (hello, Haiti! I only saw highlights of that game but from what I did see if the Haitians laid off Costa Rica any further they'd be playing in Panama). Their best asset, though, is their physically. The Costa Rican women are tall and tough. A combination of physical intimidation and a decent skill level can get results: even the mighty Americans spent the first half of their game playing fairly tentatively, unsure how to take advantage of the Ticas without risking an upset.
Of course, just because Costa Rica is dangerous enough to deserve respect doesn't mean they're going to spring an upset. Once the Americans were comfortable against Costa Rica they opened the flood gates, brutally pounding Costa Rica in every department for the second half. Canada might well pull the same trick: come out tentative but careful, let Costa Rica run around and wear themselves out, then springing their skill and athleticism and carving Costa Rica into pieces.
I'm hard-pressed to think of a position where Costa Rica is even competitive with Canada, let alone superior. Their strike force is a reasonable cadre of journeywomen but nobody on the level of a Kara Lang, let alone a Christine Sinclair. The midfielders are more than capable of moving the ball decently but lack any flair or game-breaking talent. Their defense is questionable, and if their goalkeeping has managed to save any games they haven't done it when I was paying attention.
None of this is going to be news to most of my readers. Canada should win; I've heard the betting houses are laying 10-to-1 odds against a Costa Rican victory. The only way Canada will be beaten is if they are atrociously unlucky or if they come into the game mentally unprepared. You can't do anything about luck, but preparation comes down to the coaching staff and luckily we have Carolina Morace rather than Even Pellerud. Morace's teams have been beaten, sometimes badly, in her Canadian tenure but they've never been caught unprepared. I've never seen Morace-era Canada take a minnow lightly. Against both Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana earlier in this tournament, they did a professional job. The Trinidad and Tobago game was the brightest omen: Canada faced adversity in the form of inept refereeing that called back two of their goals. They dominated the Trindidians utterly but were unable to get a goal for the longest time. Weaker teams would start to worry, begin forcing the play or running around too much. We've seen Pellerud teams pull that exact slow collapse. Instead, Canada stuck to their game plan, kept up their dominance, got a goal and won the game. It speaks very positively for their mental toughness as well as their technical skill.
That's what takes the pang off my fear of an upset. This generation of Canadian women isn't only talented, they're confident and intelligent. They know exactly how good they are and that, if they stick to their game plan, they can beat anybody in the world who isn't American or German. They keep calm even when stormclouds are closing in, the linesman is waving her flag like she's trying to signal a battleship, and the opposing defenders are tackling hard and trying to rile them up. Even if the Costa Ricans snatch a goal early, I fully believe these ladies are mature enough to put it behind them. I have a lot of confidence in the coach and in the players at every position.
I just don't have confidence in the soccer gods. Let's hope our ladies can put them in their place.