There are going to be lessons on the road to the Concacaf Championships for the Canadian women’s national team, which is the reason it scheduled two exhibition matches against Nigeria.
A team loaded with athletic ability, Nigeria were expected to make Canada work in the final match of the Celebration Tour at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., on Monday and did just that, forcing the hosts to score a late equalizer in a 2-2 tie.
Striker Ifeoma Onumonu, who plays for NJ/NY Gotham FC, and Rasheedat Ajibade, who plays for Athletic Madrid in Spain, scored for Nigeria, while Christine Sinclair and Shelina Zadorsky countered for Canada in front of a packed house of 6,000 fans.
With a couple of extra days to prepare, Canada head coach Bev Priestman was expecting a tougher challenge from Nigeria than they presented at BC Place on Friday, where Jessie Fleming and Vanessa Gilles scored in a 2-0 win, a scoreline which actually flattered the visitors.
“I’m frustrated, I think we had maybe 20 shots and again couldn’t find the back of the net as much as we would like to,” Priestman said. “Overall, I’m really pleased with the resilience we showed; we won a gold medal in the summer not losing games, and to come back and the adversity that comes with that, I thought the group gave everything they had.”
Along with being part of the Canadian Celebration Tour commemorating the team’s gold-medal performance in Tokyo last summer, the two games against Nigeria also gave Priestman a chance to evaluate her team heading into the Concacaf Championships this summer in Mexico.
The tournament will serve as both a 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 2024 Olympic qualifier.
In Langford, the Super Falcons were a more cohesive unit defensively and tougher to break down. They were also more adventurous going forward and presented plenty of problems for Canada’s back line.
“I think the Nigeria we saw tonight was probably more of what we know in terms of, they can be dangerous on the break,” Priestman said. “And I got to see some younger players. I think I would have like to, had the game gone a different direction, to get more players into the game today, but that’s the nature of playing at this level.”
Nigeria took a surprise lead in the fifth minute when Onumonu took advantage of a defensive mistake and scored on a back heal, which found its way past Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
The play began with Toni Payne swinging a free kick into the penalty area, which the Canadian defenders were unable to deal with cleanly. The ball fell to Onumonu, who had her back to the net, and she healed it in to give Nigeria the 1-0 lead.
Canada had plenty of chances to tie the contest in the half as Janine Beckie, staring at right back, kept pushing forward and swung dangerous crosses into the penalty area. Neither Jordyn Huitema, Nichelle Prince nor Adriana Leon, however, were able to make the most of the crosses.
In the second half, Sinclair was brought on as a substitute for Huitema and made an immediate impact, tying the game in the 49th minute.
Sinclair took advantage of a mistake from Chiamaka, who came well out of her net to play a free kick and then was left helpless after rolling an ill-advised pass to her central defender Onome Ebi in traffic.
Sinclair was able to pressure Ebi into giving the ball away, and then deftly chipped Ebi from 30 yards out to tie the game and increase her tally at the top of the all-time international scoring list to 189 goals.
“I can’t imagine this team without Sync,” Zadorsky said. “Since I’ve joined she’s always been there and she pulls things out in training and in game that can kind of stun you. Just the composure, I think that’s the thing I notice most about her, is her composure and her ability to find the goal. Even if she doesn’t have time to look, she has this sixth sense to know where the goal is.”
Canada was expected to take control of the game after the tying goal, but Nigeria hit back four minutes later as Ajibade swung a cross into the penalty area, which eluded substitute goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo and rolled into the far corner of the net.
D’Angelo was anticipating Onumonu getting a touch on the cross in front, but the ball skipped past her and found the net, much to the disappointment of the Canadian goalkeeper.
Canada pushed for the tying goal through the remainder of the half and came close a few times before Zadorsky headed in a cross from Beckie in the 88th minute.
Sinclair hit the crossbar on a shot Chiamaka was able to get her fingertips on, and Zadorsky hit the goal post with a header on the ensuing corner swung to the far post.
“Even at half time, we believed the goal would come and at times it can be frustrating because these teams are difficult to beat for a reason,” Priestman said. “We were bitterly disappointed to concede two and it was unlikely for us to do that, but I was more pleased with the response and the belief and knowing the goals would come.
“And to be honest, if we had a bit more added time, who’s to say we wouldn’t have gotten another one.”
Zadorsky was able to tie the game with her third international goal in 79 matches, getting above Onumonu to a cross swung into the penalty area by Beckie.
Canada dominated possession in the game with 71 per cent of the ball and had 19 efforts at goal to six by Nigeria. Both team had five shots hit the target.
“It’s funny, because I’ve been training really hard and working on set pieces and really set goals for myself to be a game-changing centre back,” Zadorsky said. “I think it felt good to put what you’ve done in training. But more importantly it was about getting us back in the game and really feeding off the energy to try and get the win. Unfortunately we didn’t, but we’ll take a lot of learnings from this game.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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