I really can’t pick this game.
I’ll fess up, I’m a fan of both teams. I followed Canada around the UK at the last Olympic Games in 2012 and worked with the Matildas a few generations ago as team manager. It feels like these teams have been circling each other in recent years, dodging each other in major tournaments and hovering around a similar set of results. Meeting in the first round of this tournament is just a confusing prospect.
At first glance, Australia lacks Olympic experience with only one Australian Olympian, co-captain Lisa De Vanna. On the other hand, the nucleus of the team has been together for nigh on six years and is building slowly and steadily towards medal contention.
Canada has much more Olympic time as a team, but only seven of their players were in London four years ago, with Canada re-building after hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015.
Canada’s credibility in world football rose sharply in London 2012, thanks to their epic nail biter against the USA in their semi-final at Old Trafford. It sits atop the pinnacle of memorable women’s football matches alongside a handful of World Cup finals.
Cementing Canada’s London performance and their prominence in the country’s sporting landscape was their bronze medal winning victory over a dominant French team, and captain Christine Sinclair performing flag bearing duties at the closing ceremony. Their previous major outing had seen them finish winless and at the bottom of the ladder at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
In contrast, Australia spent the last Olympic tournament licking their wounds after missing the Games through a qualification process that hurt more than usual. While North Korea was banned from the 2016 FIFA Women’s World Cup due to anti-doping violations, they were allowed to compete in the Games.
Australia has had a thorough preparation. They are fully acclimatised having spent the last four weeks in Brazil. Their time in Fortaleza was highlighted by a match against Brazil that they largely dominated until the sending off of Katrina Gorry, ended in a 3-1 loss to the home side.
Canada took the long way to Brazil, travelling to Europe to play against arch-rivals France. They too dominated long spells but finished on the wrong side of the ledger with a 1-0 loss.
Canada are ranked 10 in the world, Australia 5, but it’s not so long since those tables were flipped. It’s what I want to do with this match. Toss a coin. At least that way we can be guaranteed no injuries…
One thing is for certain - Corinthean Arena is looking an absolute treat. Neither team was allowed a walkthrough prior to the match in order to preserve the pitch.
Just breathing in the air here in Brazil you can smell football. Driving to the stadium and taking in all the street art fills you with a sense of passion for the game here. Every third or fourth mural features football or footballers. Television channels are dedicated to the game – I’ve never watched so much futsal in my life! There are football shirts, magazines and flags for sale on every street corner. Football is life here.
Word is that over 20,000 tickets have been sold to the match already, without any real visible fanfare or Olympic look and feel fluttering about the city just yet.
Fanfare might be great for the fans but it’s not what the teams are here for. Both teams appear relaxed and focused. Canada would have the weight of being World Cup hosts last year off their shoulders, and the Australians are counting down the hours until they can join the Olympians club.
Even months after the draw, many hours on the plane pondering this first match, and a few days in Brazil to figure it all out, it feels like a puzzle that just can’t be solved.
And that, my friends, is the beauty of football.
Canada v Australia
- Arena Corinthians, São Paulo
- Wednesday, 3 August
- Kick off 3pm (Thursday, 4 August 4am AEST)
Germany v Australia
- Arena Corinthians, São Paulo
- Saturday, 6 August
- Kick off 6pm (Sunday, 7 August 7am AEST)
Australia v Zimbabwe
- Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
- Tuesday, 9 August
- Kick off 4pm (Wednesday, 10 August 5am AEST)