Canada survived searing heat and a packed Costa Rica defence Monday, winning 2-0 to clinch top spot in Group B ahead of the knockout rounds at the CONCACAF W Championship.
Jessie Fleming and Sophie Schmidt scored elegant goals as Canada improved to 3-0-0 at the eight-team tournament.
The Canadian women had plenty of chances to add to their lead but lacked clinical finishing on a steamy night at Estadio BBVA, a 51,000-capacity venue that is home to CF Monterrey. It was 40 degrees Celsius at kickoff, which was 6 p.m. local time.
Despite the heat, the Canadians showed plenty of stamina and creative spark against a Costa Rica team that switched to a back five in a failed bid to slow down the Canada attack.
“I think [Canadian] players walking off the pitch would have wanted some moments back where it could have been more than two [goals]. But at the same time I thought we created a lot and we dominated. So that’s the main thing,” said Priestman.
WATCH | Fleming’s early marker vs. Costa Rica helps Canada top Group B:
Canada outshot Costa Rica 11-1 (5-1 in shots on target), according to CONCACAF.
“Overall I thought it was a professional performance,” said Priestman. “It wasn’t perfect but it was professional.”
Finishing first in the group means avoiding the top-ranked U.S., who wrapped up group play Monday night with a 1-0 victory against winless Mexico, in the semifinals. Kristie Mewis scored the winner in the 89th minute, 16 minutes after Lizbeth Ovalle of Mexico was given a red card.
Canada and the U.S. have met in five of the previous 10 CONCACAF women’s finals, with the U.S. winning all five. But the Canadians beat the Americans 1-0 in the Tokyo Olympics semifinal en route to claiming gold last summer.
Canada still ‘has another gear’
Priestman believes her team is headed in the right direction.
“Definitely the team has another gear and that’s exciting as a coach. I think we’ve come out of this third game in a much closer space to where we need to be for the two games that are ahead of us.”
In earlier group play, the Canadians blanked No. 76 Trinidad and Tobago 6-0 and No. 57 Panama 1-0, while Costa Rica defeated Panama 3-0 and Trinidad 4-0.
Those wins meant both Canada and Costa Rica had already secured World Cup qualification.
The CONCACAF tournament is split into two groups with the top two from each progressing to the semifinals and qualifying directly to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in the process. The two third-place teams qualify for a World Cup intercontinental playoff.
Winning the CONCACAF tournament comes with a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics and a berth in the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup in 2024.
The runner-up and third-place team will meet in an Olympic play-in series, scheduled for September 2023, with berths in Olympics and CONCACAF Gold Cup on the line.
Canada and Costa Rica entered the game with the same number of wins, points, goals scored (seven) and yellow cards (one).
Canada wasted little time, going ahead in the fifth minute via a sweet Fleming strike.
Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan’s clearance went to captain Christine Sinclair, who deftly flicked the ball ahead to Nichelle Prince. Her through ball found Fleming behind the defence and the Chelsea midfielder beat goalkeeper Daniela Solera with a left-footed shot for her 17th goal in 103 international appearances.
Canada kept coming forward but was unable to add to its lead in the first half. The second half was choppier, with more breaks in play and Costa Rica managing some more possession if not scoring chances.
Schmidt doubled the lead in the 70th minute after a Canadian attack down the right flank. Janine Beckie found Adriana Leon in the penalty box and the Manchester United forward pivoted and fed Schmidt, who beat a defender and calmly curled a shot off the goalpost for her 20th goal in 212 appearances for Canada.
WATCH | Schmidt seals Canadian victory with curling finish:
Solera stopped substitute Jordyn Huitema from in-close in the 85th minute, with the ensuing rebound bouncing off several bodies and then the goalpost.
Priestman made four changes to her starting lineup, slotting in Sheridan, Jayde Riviere, Vanessa Gilles and Quinn, who goes by one name.
Costa Rica was led by captain Katherine Alvarado and Raquel (Rocky) Rodriguez, a teammate of Sinclair and Beckie on the NWSL Portland Thorns and Melissa Herrera (FC Girondins de Bordeaux, France).
The Costa Rican bench included 36-year-old veteran Shirley Cruz (formerly of Paris Saint-Germain and the NWSL OL Reign).
Priestman brought on Leon and Huitema to start the second half, replacing Sinclair and Prince. For the 39-year-old Sinclair, the world’s all-time international goal-scorer with 190, it was her 313th international appearance.
Costa Rica managed to spend some rare time in the Canadian half after the break but failed to turn that into scoring chances.
Schmidt, and Allysha Chapman, earning her 90th Canada cap, came on at the hour mark.
The Canadian women won the CONCACAF tournament in 1998 and 2010, beating Mexico in the final both times. The Americans have won the other eight editions, including the last two.
Canada has won all 15 previous meetings with Costa Rica, outscoring Las Ticas 49-6.
The Canadians prevailed 1-0 last time out in February 2018, in the semifinal of the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Carson, Calif. Huitema’s goal in the 72nd minute qualified the Canadians for the Tokyo Olympics.