While Canada leaves the Arnold Clark Cup on the back of a 1-0 loss to an impressive Spain side, coach Bev Priestman saw plenty of positives for the Olympic champions.
Despite having half of her roster in preseason mode back home with their NWSL teams and missing talismanic captain Christine Sinclair and experienced forward Adriana Leon, the sixth-ranked Canadian women tied No. 8 England 1-1 and beat No. 3 Germany 1-0 before running into a stylish Spanish side that played well above its No. 9 ranking.
“I think we’ve taken a step forward,” Priestman said after Wednesday’s match at a near-empty Molineux Stadium. “I feel like we found ways to get [star fullback] Ashley Lawrence higher [up the pitch]. We’ve got more combinations and more trusted players. I think we’ve widened the depth – I’ve tested more players.
“I said coming into this we’d come away with more European experience. We’ve done that I’m so glad we attended this tournament. I think we’ve got some massive learnings. And there are some players that really had to step up.”
Spain came as advertised, classy and confident, aggressive on defence and comfortable on the ball in attack.
Star midfielder Alexia Putellas, winner of the Ballon d’Or, Best FIFA Women’s Player and UEFA Player of the Year, pulled the strings for Spain as it extended its unbeaten streak to 19 games (17-0-2) since a 1-0 loss to the United States at the SheBelieves Cup in March, 2020.
While Spain had more of the ball early on, Canada seemed up to the task and created several chances of its own to start.
But Spain went ahead in the 21st minute after Patri Guijarro stole the ball off Lawrence in midfield. Five passes later it was in the back of the net with a low shot from an unmarked Putellas, who made a stealthy run into the middle of the penalty box and beat Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
The 28-year-old Barcelona star almost scored a second in the 63rd minute, but her header off a corner hit the woodwork.
The game grew scrappier in the second half as substitutions were made. Canada came on late but was unable to break through, with two Canadian attackers unable to get to a dangerous Lawrence cross that flashed through the Spanish penalty box in the dying seconds.
As in the two previous matches, Priestman liked parts of the performance.
“For us it’s been three games of half-a-game, to be honest with you, across this tournament,” she said. “I can only walk away from this game very happy with the second half and a poor first half. But that’s credit to Spain.”
Spain finished with 60 per cent possession and outshot Canada 14-7 although the Canadians had a 3-1 edge in shots on target.
The defeat was only the fourth for Canada under Priestman, whose record is 10-4-6 including two shootout wins at the Tokyo Olympics. The other losses were to the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.
A victory Wednesday and Canada (1-1-1) would have won the tournament. England (0-0-2) played Germany (0-1-1) in the later game needing a win to have a chance of catching Spain for the tournament title.
The Spanish women arrived in England on a 16-game winning streak during which they outscored their opposition 96-0. And despite playing to two ties, Spain looked dangerous against Germany and England, posing problems with its smothering press.
The Spanish starting 11 featured six players from Champions League winner Barcelona, including Putellas. The attacking midfielder scored 26 goals and added 19 assists as Barcelona won the Spanish League, Cup and Champions League last season. Barca teammate Jenni Hermoso, who tied for the Spanish league scoring lead with 31 goals, served as captain.
“It was a very competitive game. We battled hard,” Spain coach Jorge Vilda said through an interpreter. “We played well for certain periods of the game albeit without making the best start and that’s something that we’d like to improve on. We did then take control of the game, created chances.
“Alexia Putellas scored the goal and I feel we dominated from that point onwards.”
Priestman made four changes to the team that beat Germany, giving Marie-Yasmine Alidou her senior debut while also inserting Shelina Zadorsky, Deanne Rose and Jordyn Huitema.
Alidou, a 26-year-old midfielder from Saint-Hubert, Que., plays in Austria for SK Sturm Graz.
Eight of Canada’s 11 starters Wednesday were European-based and in-season.
Centre back Kadeisha Buchanan, earning her 116th cap, captained Canada in the absence of Sinclair, who stayed at home after the recent death of her mother. Jessie Fleming served as skipper against England while fellow midfielder Desiree Scott wore the captain’s armband against Germany.
Sheridan started in goal for the third straight game at the tournament, giving way to Sabrina D’Angelo at halftime. Buchanan, Fleming, Lawrence, Scott, Janine Beckie and Jayde Riviere also started all three contests.
Canada came close in the 28th minute when Huitema headed a Beckie free kick off the crossbar. The ball bounced back into play, just missing an onrushing Buchanan. Spain goalkeeper Lola Gallardo appeared to get a finger to the ball, sending it off the woodwork.
Putellas showed her pedigree on numerous occasions, including late in the half when she nutmegged Scott, who was making her 173rd senior appearance, before heading to the Canadian goal.
Riviere had to be helped off in the 53rd minute in obvious pain after having her wrist stepped on by a Spanish player after falling. There was no immediate update on her condition.
Canada was unable to threaten until later in the second half, with the final passing often missing its mark although forward Cloé Lacasse made her presence felt after coming on in the 77th minute.
The Canadian women had only played Spain twice before, drawing 0-0 in May, 2019, in Logrones and losing 1-0 in March, 2017, in Sao Joao da Venda.
The Canadian women are gearing up for the CONCACAF W Championship in July in Mexico, which will determine World Cup and Olympic qualification. Next up for Canada is a planned friendly in April.
The England tournament’s title sponsor, Arnold Clark, is a family-run car dealer.