Canadian women approach Spain with plenty of respect at Arnold Clark Cup

Canadian women approach Spain with plenty of respect at Arnold Clark Cup

After tying host England and defeating Germany at the Arnold Clark Cup, Canada may face its toughest test at the four-team tournament in the form of Spain.

A win Wednesday at Wolverhampton’s Molineux Stadium and the sixth-ranked Canadian women (1-0-1) will hoist the event’s shiny new cone-shaped trophy.

But No. 9 Spain (0-0-2) arrived at the inaugural England competition on a 16-game winning streak during which it outscored its opposition 96-0. And despite playing to two ties, the Spanish women looked dangerous against No. 3 Germany and No. 8 England, posing problems with their smothering press.

“I think they’re favourites to win the (2022) Euros,” Priestman told reporters on Tuesday.

“They’re a team that’s brilliant on the ball,” she added. “And it asks questions of you defensively. You have to be really disciplined defensively to be able to cope with them and how much they move the ball … They’ve got top top players. It’s going to be a great test for us.

“But I do also think there is opportunity to hurt Spain as well. We’ve seen snippets of that in this tournament.”

The Spanish roster features 10 players from Champions League winner Barcelona, including attacking midfielder Alexia Putellas, winner of the Ballon d’Or, Best FIFA Women’s Player, and UEFA Player of the Year.

Putellas scored 26 goals and added 19 assists as Barcelona won the Spanish League, Cup and Champions League last season. Barca teammate Jenni Hermoso tied for the Spanish league scoring lead with 31 goals.

Priestman believes her team’s speed — “We’ve got bags of pace” — and ability to strike in transition can make a difference against Spain’s aggressive press.

Canada will have to take its chances, however, against a Spanish side that currently leads its World Cup qualifying group at 5-0-0.

“We have to be ruthless. You don’t get many chances against Tier 1 teams,” Priestman said. “But if we’re better at taking them, we can hurt teams.”

Priestman says striker Jordyn Huitema, who missed Sunday’s win over Germany with an undisclosed injury, will be available Wednesday.

Playing its third game in seven days, Olympic champion Canada will likely rotate its roster. Priestman says she has to balance wanting to win the game with giving all her players a chance to shine.

“What we’ve seen is Canada, probably over the last year, we’ve got depth and we’ve used that depth right the way through the Olympics … I think that will be a real strength of ours,” she said. “The research we’ve done is World Cup teams who win use 90-per-cent-plus of their roster and if you’re going to do that, you need to test that.”

After tying England 1-1, Canada made three changes to its starting lineup and defeated Germany 1-0. Spain drew Germany 1-1 and England 0-0.

The Canadian women have only played Spain twice, drawing 0-0 in May 2019 in Logrones and losing 1-0 in March 2017 in Sao Joao da Venda.

Canada is 10-3-6 under Priestman, including two shootout wins at the Tokyo Olympics. The losses were to the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.

Given half of Canada’s roster is in pre-season mode with their NWSL teams, Priestman said winning the English tournament would be a confidence boost ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

“But at the same time I won’t get carried away with it either, because there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she added. “If we win, fantastic. The players thoroughly deserve it for the effort they’ve put in under the circumstances.

“And if we don’t win it, then we’ve taken some steps forward and I think’s the most important thing.”

The Canadian women are gearing up for the CONCACAF W Championship in July in Mexico, which will determine World Cup and Olympic qualification.

The England tournament’s title sponsor, Arnold Clark, is a family-run car dealer.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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