It’s an Olympic football rematch that’s been four years in the making.
Canada and France meet in the women’s soccer quarterfinals on Friday, with the winning team guaranteeing themselves a chance at a medal, and the losing team eliminated from the competition.
As if that’s not enough of a motivator, players on both sides will be driven by memories of the bronze-medal game at London 2012, which Canada won 1-0. Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson scored in the final minute to give the country its first Olympic medal in a traditional team sport since Berlin 1936.
It was an inspirational moment for Canadian soccer, but a heartbreaking result for the French team, who’ll be gunning for some revenge. But a lot has changed since those two teams met at the City of Coventry Stadium four years ago.
Canada went into London 2012 with a lot of uncertainty, after finishing in last place at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Head coach John Herdman was hired shortly after that tournament, and did lead the team to a surprise gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games.
France, on the other hand, was feeling positive after their performance at the 2011 World Cup—which included defeating Canada by a 4-0 score. They did hold the advantage for most of the 2012 bronze-medal game, though Canada was able to grab the win.
Both teams have had plenty of roster changes since London 2012. Only six players from Canada’s Olympic team in London—a recognizable group that includes Matheson, Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi—are on the 18-player squad this time.
Similarly, France’s squad in Rio includes eight players from those last Olympics, a group that includes key veterans like Camille Abily, Élodie Thomis and Louisa Cadamuro (née Nécib).
The circumstances around the teams are also different this time around. Both teams reached the quarterfinals of last summer’s Women’s World Cup, which was played in Canada, allowing the Canadian team to generate lots of ongoing energy from playing in front of giant hometown crowds.
Herdman’s team got an even bigger energy boost on Tuesday, when they defeated Germany (ranked No. 2 in the world) for the first time ever, to clinch first place in their Olympic group.
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France, ranked No. 3 in the world, will still represent a formidable challenge for the No. 10-ranked Canadians, especially given their desire to exorcise the ghosts of London.
But with a surge of momentum, helped by the addition of talented young players such as Kadeisha Buchanan, Janine Beckie, Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming, Canada is in a good position to once again get the better of France on the Olympic stage.