The question on the minds of everyone who watched Canada’s dramatic run to the London 2012 podium in women’s soccer is: could they do it again in Rio?
The answer is that they could—but it certainly won’t be easy.
Players join Karina LeBlanc (nickname: KK) for karaoke:
The 12-team Olympic field contains eight of the top 10 teams in the world, according to the most recent FIFA Women’s Ranking, including the USA (No. 1), Germany (No. 2) and France (No. 3). Canada comes in ranked No. 10.
The Americans have owned the competition since women’s soccer was introduced at Atlanta 1996, winning four gold medals and one silver. The team also triumphed at last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, and come into Rio as favourites.
Canada has competed in two previous Olympics, finishing eighth at Beijing 2008 and winning bronze in London. If the team is to claim another medal in Rio, here are some challenges they may face along the way.
Canada’s first Olympic opponent (Aug. 3), the Aussies will provide a stern test that will set the tone for the whole tournament. Australia sits at No. 5 in the world, an all-time high, after a strong World Cup and good recent results. Led by veteran striker Lisa De Vanna, the Aussies are seeking their first Olympic win since Athens 2004.
Two-time World Cup champs and three-time Olympic medalists, the Germans are always a big threat. With a varied attack that includes the likes of Anja Mittag and Dzsenifer Marozsán, Germany will be Canada’s most difficult opponent of the group stage (Aug. 9)—and, potentially, the knockout stage as well.
After France danced to a 4-0 win at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Canada got its revenge in London, beating the French 1-0 in the bronze-medal game. A dynamic, technical team boasting playmakers like Camille Abily, Eugénie Le Sommer and Louisa Cadamuro (nee Necib), France will be hungry for a first Olympic medal.
This traditional powerhouse team will have the benefit of home-field advantage in what could be a last Olympic hurrah for stars Cristiane (top scorer at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) and Marta (five-time FIFA World Player of the Year).
The epic London semifinal (a 4-3 extra-time win for the Americans) was the closest the Canadian team has come to beating its cross-border rivals in over a decade. Awash with big-game veterans like Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, the Americans will pose a massive challenge to any team they meet in the knockout stage—and yes, that could include an Olympic rematch against Canada.