Olympics Group E Round-Up

Catherine Paquette reviews all the action in Group E at the Olympics and looks ahead to tomorrow’s second round of action in the group.

Group E at the Olympic women’s football tournament contains Japan, Canada, Chile and Great Britain. The group got underway with the clash between Great Britain and Chile (pictured above – Ellen White and Steph Houghton celebrating via Telegraph). 

Great Britain is appearing in its second Olympics. The squad is made up of a largely English contingent with two Scottish and one Welsh player.  All of its players bar Wales’ Sophie Ingle had appeared at one or more other international tournaments. 

All of Team GB’s players are fully professional with all apart from the USNWSL based Rachel Daly playing in the FA Women’s Super League.

In contrast, Chile is at its maiden Olympic Games.  It is the second major non-regional tournament for the nation after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The team is composed of several full time professionals, who ply their trade in the French Division 1, Swedish Damallsvenskan and Spanish Primera Liga. One of these players is Christiane Endler, widely considered the best goalkeeper in the world. Notably, Chile have not travelled without their record goal scorer, Cote Rojas, who has starred in the W-League for the past few seasons at Adelaide United.

The rest of the squad play in the largely semi-professional Chilean league.  While the quality and investment in the league has increased dramatically in recent years, it is not to the standard of its continental counterparts.

The Chileans were therefore underdogs entering this match. It is fair to say that they fought a good game against a stronger opponent.   From Great Britain’s part, for a team that had had very limited preparation time together and played just one closed-door match, they played like a well-oiled machine. 

The British had a starting line-up set up in a 4-2-3-1.  In contrast, the Chileans lined up with a 4-3-3.

From the opening, Team GB largely dominated possession and the pace of play. They were able to pass their way around their Chilean opponents with ease, moving the ball quickly into space and got their first shot on goal in the fourth minute of the match.  

Chile did originally put forward pressure on their highly rated opponents, contributing to a high original tempo.  At times this meant that Great Britain had to progress backwards to hold the ball.  However, Team GB kept finding spaces, generally finishing out wide with Lauren Hemp or Kiera Walsh, and then cutting or crossing into the box.  

After several failed attempts on goal, and one successful shot called offside, the Brits finally found the back of the net after 18 minutes.  With a successful build-up, where Team GB were able to safely commit players forward, Lucy Bronze crossed the ball in from the right-hand side of the box. It found an open Hemp on the far post whose header found Ellen White who converted the goal. 

The Chileans did pick up some possession halfway through the first half and showed they could move it well.  While the Brits did at times let them play the ball, without a hurried press, Chile’s attack struggled with turnovers, Team GB pressure closer to their goal and the blocking of passing lanes.  This resulted in few chances for La Roja. In fact Chile’s only shot on goal came from Karen Araya in the 29th minute of the first half.  She struck the ball from well out of the box.  It was easily stopped by Ellie Roebuck.  On the defensive side, with twenty shots on goal, seven on frame, the Chileans did find themselves several times struggling defensively to deal with Team GB’s offensive waves.

Another significant disadvantage for the Chileans was their lack of physical height, with which they struggled during aerial duels. It diminished the effective passing of long balls forward as they could be easily contested in the air by Team GB and increased their vulnerability in defence. 

The Brits continued their tactic of controlled, possessive build-up early in the second half. White nearly doubled GB’s lead in the 55th minute when she shot a rebound from Endler wide of the goal.  It looked like she might be awarded a penalty as her shot occurred during a Chilean tackle, however VAR ruled the play offside.

Above: Kim Little escapes from Chile’s Yessenia López (11). Photo: The Guardian

Nikita Parris and Sophie Ingle came on in the 68th minute for Hemp and Walsh respectively, while Mária Mardones came on for Yessenia López.  The change did result in a great passing play several minutes later up front by the Brits.  It concluded with a chip over the defence from Bronze that found an unmarked White who finished it beautifully.  Team GB were up by two. 

Bar one attack by Chile that did not end with a shot on goal, the rest of the match did not produce viable chances to change the result. 

Particular standouts for Team GB were Lauren Hemp, Kim Little and of course Ellen White.  Hemp caused constant trouble for the Chileans up the left side of the field for most of 68 minutes that she was on the pitch.   Little for her part was elevated by her position alongside her British counterparts, being able to have the freedom to create and move forward that she does not always have in the Scottish midfield.  She often dictated the play going through the midfield, and opened up attacks just by dropping a shoulder and turning, something she has shown often in her illustrious career.

White continued to show that she is a striker on form, capable of doing her job up front, but also contributing in holding the ball and applying pressure on opposition defenders. 

The Chileans did have a few standouts themselves.  Faced with a total twenty shots with seven on goal, Endler continued to show the goalkeeping skills, not having a perfect match as she made mistakes, but making saves to keep her team in the game.   She also showed the leadership skills that resulted in her getting the captain’s armband.  Her voice and stopping talent reduced the British damage that could have occurred.  

Midfielders Francisca Lara and Karen Araya also had a good game.  Even considering the lack of opportunities, they were good in bringing up the ball.  They also good at providing defensive and interception skills when needed. 

The second match of the group was between hosts Japan and Canada.  Both teams have extensive Olympic and Women’s World Cup experience.

Japan won silver at the 2012 London Olympics and won the World Cup in the year prior. However, the team competing now is not the same as a decade ago, or even the team that reached the final of the women’s World Cup at Canada 2015.  Japan are very much in a rebuilding phase.  Still they are a very technical, experienced team whose players all play professional football in Japan, the American NWSL, the German Bundesliga, the English FAWSL, the Italian Serie A and the Swedish Damallsvenskan. 

Canada for their part are double-defending-bronze medalists.  A significant part of their cohort was on the podium in Rio 2016 and four players were also on the podium in London 2012.  Their squad is also composed of nearly all professional players, from the American NWSL, the French Division 1, the Swedish Damallsvenskan, the English FAWSL and four players at the American collegiate level.

For this match the Japanese played with their traditional 4-4-2. In contrast the Canadians played with a 4-2-3-1. 

Christine Sinclair, team Canada’s captain and the international goal scoring record holder, man or woman, was making her 300th appearance for her nation.  She had stated before that she had scored on her 100th and 200th appearance and hoped to score in her 300th.  Her hopes were answered in the 6th minute of play.  

A nice pass from Ashley Lawrence out wide right to Nichelle Prince was passed into the box to Sinclair.  She shot on goal but the ball hit the post.  Reminding everyone how she became the all-time international goal scorer she then followed up her own rebound to put it in for a dream start.

The goal buoyed the Canadian team who then went on to dominate possession for the first 20 minutes of play. The pressure from the Canadians was continuous, from their defence into the Japanese half.  However, like they have struggled for a while, they were not able to break through the final third.  

The Japanese, when they started to advance themselves in the latter part of the first half, also struggled there. The first half saw only one shot on goal from the Canadians and two missed shots from the Japanese.

The Japanese made one change at halftime, bringing on Yuika Sugasawa for an ineffectual Mina Tanaka.   Drama then occurred in the early part of the second half.  

Charging an oncoming ball in her box, Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé was deemed to have made contact with the incoming Japanese striker in a VAR review.  After a good seven minute injury break Labbé indicated to her medical team she felt OK to continue.  She then saved Mina Tanaka’s penalty to keep her team in the lead.  However, several minutes later while clearly in pain, Labbé was replaced by Kailen Sheridan.

A few moments later it seemed like the Canadians had doubled their lead, when a scuffed ball in front of the Japanese goal was put in by Janine Beckie.  However, it was ruled offside.  The Canadians continued to control the match, and contain the host nation’s team through the second half.

Above: Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan shields the ball from Japan’s Mina Tanaka. Photo: Fan Duel.

This lack of production also continued into the second half. While the Canadians were largely the stronger side in the half, their defence did well to stop Japanese advances, but there continued to be a struggle to connect between their midfielders and forwards.  

Japan found a breakthrough though in the 84th minute.  Mana Iwabuchi received a pass distributed from inside her own half which flew to just outside the Canadian box.  She managed to get in behind the too date very good Canadian defence.  She took her shot of the first touch, catching keeper Sheridan off guard, and struck it in.  

Despite several further substitutions, neither side was able to grab the three points as the game ended 1-1. 

The Canadians left clearly disappointed with their display.  During parts of the match they lacked something that is often described as un-Canadian, selfishness.  There were times where Beckie, Prince and Jess Fleming should have tried for goal instead of passing to a teammate.  

This is not a new phenomenon, A bit more individual ruthlessness could have put the Canadians up by another goal or two and assured them the win.  It is a shame for them, as they had played better for most of the match, to drop two important points so late in the game.  

The standout players for this match for Canada were their defensive pairing of Shelina Zadorsky and Kadeisha Buchanan.  Their defensive strength, despite the goal, and distribution allowed the Canadian midfield to move further up and control the ball for significant parts of the match.  Christine Sinclair scoring on her 300th appearance, by essentially assisting herself, is also an important mention.

From the Japanese side the player that put in a good performance was Mana Iwabuchi. She only had one shot on goal but she capitalized on it.  The good link up play from her half and her one touch timing proved deadly.

Upcoming matches:

Japan v Great Britain

The order of games was a blessing in a way for Great Britain in order to build their cohesion and confidence.  Tomorrow’s game will be more challenging.

The Japanese are much more technical and showed they can be deadly.  Currently on only one point they will not want to wait until the last match to ensure they make the knock out stages. They may come out with more urgency than they did against Canada.

However, it is still my opinion that Great Britain is the better team.  The formation they used against Chile, the 4-2-3-1, is the same the Canadians used against the Japanese.  While they were not effective in the final third, this is due to Canadian problems with their link up from midfield to strikers and not due to tactics.

Great Britain know their formation works, and as they are not a team that is as familiar with each other with their changes as their opponents may be, sticking to the same 4-2-3-1 is important.  The height advantage they had against Chile will again be present against their Japanese adversaries as well. 

Japan should have the same problems against Team GB that they had against Canada.  Both have teams with steady back lines. Finding more opportunities to penetrate behind will be imperative if the Japanese hope to get more than one shot on goal.

Canada v Chile

The same issues that Chile had against Team GB will once again reappear against Canada. They play quite similar to the British, although with a sturdier back line but less link up play up front. However, the Canadians will be entering this match knowing they must win against Chile.

Known for being able to rally, and with the talent and experience to do so, some of the restraint they displayed against the better skilled Japanese may disappear.  It will be imperative for the Chilean back line to try to remained disciplined and minimize Canadian chances. 

Reducing Canadian passing lanes as much as possible, and keeping the ball when they have it will be important for the Chileans if they want any chance of trying to be more offensive.  Capitalizing on opportunities, being patient and not wasting the chances close to net, will be important if they stand any chance of trying to have an upset as the one the Swedes had with the Americans.

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