VAN DIEST: Canada gets win against Mexico avoids United States for trip to Tokyo

Canada forward Christine Sinclair, right, battles with Kiana Palacios of Mexico as Sophie Schmidt looks on at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Edinburg, Texas on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. Canada won 2-0 Supplied / Canada Soccer

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With a spot in the semifinal of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying tournament already secured, the objective for Canada was to avoid the United States with Tokyo on the line.

Canada needed just a tie against Mexico in its final Group B game Tuesday in Edinburg, Texas, to secure top spot and avoid the Americans in the semifinal. They accomplished that with a gritty 2-0 win against a determined Mexican team.

Striker Christine Sinclair and defender Shelina Zadorsky scored for Canada, who will play Costa Rica in the semifinal Friday in Carson, Calif., for a berth into a fourth consecutive women’s Olympic soccer tournament.

The two qualifying tournament finalists represent the region in the 12-team Tokyo Olympic tournament this summer. Canada is a two-time defending Olympic bronze medallist.

“It (qualifying for Olympics) means everything, that’s what we’re here,” Zadorsky told One Soccer following the win. “We came here to get nine points (three wins) in the group stage and now we want to go and we want to qualify and we want to win the tournament.

“We set the bar high for ourselves and we know the competition keeps getting harder and harder and we have to reflect and keep perfecting our performances.”

Canada went into the game with a 21-1-2 all-time record against Mexico. The only time Mexico had beaten Canada was at the qualifying tournament for the 2004 Olympics, where they pulled out a 2-1 victory in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Mexico were hoping to repeat the feat a little closer to home as Edinberg is located less than 35 kilometres from the border.

Spurred on by essentially a home crowd, Mexico got off to a good start, keeping Canada off-balance early. They created a couple of half chances as Canada tried to find their footing in the game.

“We knew they were going to throw a little bit more at us and we were ready,” goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe said. “It doesn’t matter who steps in there, we had different people on the back line, different people in midfield and it doesn’t matter who’s in there this team is resilient and we pushed through that adversity. I’m so proud that we came out and really dominated this game and imposed our own Canadian DNA on it and coming away with the clean sheet (shutout) you always have to be happy.”

Eventually, Canada settled in and Sinclair opened the scoring in the 26th minute with her 186th international goal.

Sinclair finished off a ball cut across the Mexican penalty area by fullback Jayde Riviere. The 19-year-old Riviere from Markham, Ont., chased down a ball sent through by Janine Beckie and fired a low cross back across the penalty area, which landed on Sinclair’s foot. The leading international goal scorer of all time, hammered a shot past Mexican goalkeeper Emily Alvarado to give Canada the lead.

Once up a goal, Canada dictated play in between some hard tackles by Mexico, earning them a pair of yellow cards. Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming was cut down by Mexican defender Rebeca Bernal after playing a pass in midfield.

Earlier in the half, Mexican defender Jocelyn Orejel was booked for clipping the back of Sinclair’s heels to stop a counter attack.

Beckie came close to increasing Canada’s lead when her shot from outside of the Mexican area hammered the crossbar. Beckie, 25, scored a hat trick in a 9-0 win against Jamaica on Saturday. Canada have not allowed a goal through its first three games of the tournament.

“I think we pride ourselves in being a tight team and having that Canadian DNA and just going hard and being really gritty and I think we’ve shown that so far,” Zadorsky said. “I know there will be a lot of dangerous forwards coming up in these next couple of games and we really got to keep it tight and really keep this momentum.”

Canada increased its lead before the end of the first half when Zadorsky scored her second international goal off a corner kick. The ball was lofted to the far post by Beckie and it dropped to Kadeisha Buchanan, who laid it off to Zadorsky at the top of the box. Zadorsky one-timed a left-footed shot that bounced through a maze of bodies and in past Alvarado.

“I bring it back to just our team and how dangerous we’ve been all tournament,” Zadorsky said. “There have been so many goal scorers and I feel so lucky to be one of them now.”

In the second half, Mexico pressed to get back in the game. Labbe made an outstanding save on a shot from substitute Kiana Palacios in the 53rd minute. Palacios hammered a left-footed shot heading inside the near post but Labbe was able to get a hand on it.

Labbe made another good save in the 75th minute on a shot from Daniela Espinosa from inside the box that took a deflection, forcing the Canadian goalkeeper to dive to her left and palm the ball away.

Prior to the opportunity for Mexico, Sinclair was subbed out and replaced by Jordyn Huitema, who scored five goals in the win against Jamaica.

It was another substitute, however, who should have increased the lead as Rebecca Quinn came in for Buchanan and was promptly set up by Fleming at the top of the penalty area. Quinn, however, flashed her shot over the crossbar letting Alvarado off the hook.

Nichelle Prince did the same moments later, failing to hit the target with a shot from roughly 12 yards out. Prince had another chance late but her rebound attempt was smothered by Alvarado after making a great save on a header by Huitema.

With the loss, Mexico will face four-time Olympic champions United States for a spot in Tokyo. The United States have cruised through the tournament defeating Haiti 4-0, Panama 8-0 and Costa Rica 6-0. Costa Rica finished second in the group with a 6-1 win against Panama and 2-0 win against Haiti.

With the win, Canada extend its winning streak against Mexico to 14 games.

“When know (Costa Rica) it’s going to be a battle, similar to the game against Mexico,” Labbe said. “We know it’s going to be physical battle so that’s first and foremost. We know they’re a team that has some individual talent. At the end of the day if we continue to focus on us and what we can bring, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against.”

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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