There is no more over-used term in sports than “statement” game. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and for the Canadian women’s soccer team, Tuesday’s meeting with Sweden (9:30 a.m. ET) is a chance to put down a marker while perhaps earning a better draw for the knockout round.
Injuries forced Canadian coach John Herdman to announce two changes to his team, with defenders Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle replaced by alternates Melanie Booth and Marie-Eve Nault. Zurrer has not played in the first two games of the Olympics, while Gayle injured her hamstring in a 3-0 win over South Africa on Saturday. Gayle was playing for Candace Chapman, herself injured in Canada’s opening 2-1 loss to Japan.
“We made the swap of two defenders for two defenders,” Herdman said. “Robyn put her body on the line in the last match in what was a stunning performance. For Emily … she has just been a positive influence while doing everything she could to get back to full fitness, but unfortunately the timelines were just too tight.”
Canada and Sweden will meet at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park, the home of the famed Newcastle United and situated in Herdman’s home town. Sweden and Japan are tied atop Group F with four points but the Swedes have a goal difference of plus three to Japan’s plus one. Japan plays South Africa, so that won’t last. Canada has a win and a draw and a goal difference of plus two. The three group winners and runners-up advance to the knockout stage, as do the top two third-place finishers, meaning both Canada and Sweden could advance with a tie.
Despite brave words from Herdman, Canada’s mission ought to be delaying any meeting with the U.S. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was Lotta Schelin of Sweden who scored twice in a 2-1 win that consigned Canada to a match against and eventual elimination by the U.S.
“Canada is a physical team,” said Nilla Fischer, one of the Swedish players nursing an injury. “We’ll have to try to force things on the outside of their midfield, because they play very tight.”