The Olympic women’s soccer tournament suddenly looks more wide-open

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Quick note before we get started: from now through the closing ceremony on Aug. 8, the Buzzer will be devoted exclusively to the Tokyo Olympics. Seven days a week, you’ll get news, insight and analysis on the biggest stories from the Games, as well as tips on who and what to watch to help guide your TV and live-stream viewing. For all your non-Olympic sports news, including the latest from a busy NHL off-season, visit CBCSports.ca.

OK, on to the Olympic stuff:

The Canadian women’s soccer team is off to a good start — but it could have been better

Canada opened its quest for a third consecutive Olympic medal with a solid result today, tying Japan 1-1. Though Canada is the slightly higher-ranked team (8th vs. 10th on FIFA’s list), the Japanese had home-field advantage at the Sapporo Dome and were favoured by oddsmakers. So Canada will take the draw.

But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Canadians let one slip away. They grabbed the lead in the sixth minute on a goal by star captain Christine Sinclair and controlled play for much of the match. The outright upset was in their grasp until Japan’s Mana Iwabuchi netted the equalizer in the 84th minute, leaving Canada with just one point when it was poised to take three. It’s also a bit troubling, writes soccer expert John Molinaro, that Canada continues to lean so heavily on the 38-year-old Sinclair for its scoring. Read John’s full analysis of today’s match here.

Another concern right now is the health of goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. The 2016 Olympic bronze medallist went through a wild five-minute stretch early in the second half that started with her charging out of her crease and taking down an attacker in the penalty area. The Japanese player fell hard on Labbé’s left shoulder area, and the goalie was clearly in a lot of pain. But she stayed in to stop the ensuing penalty kick before leaving the match a few minutes later, still hurting and nearly in tears. Her status for Canada’s next outing — Saturday at 3:30 a.m. ET vs. Chile — was unclear at our publish time. Watch Labbé’s heroic sequence here.

Find live streams, must-watch video highlights, breaking news and more in one perfect Olympic Games package. Following Team Canada has never been easier or more exciting.

More from Tokyo 2020

To set you up for the rest of the tournament, let’s run through some key things to know about the Canadian team and the women’s soccer event as a whole:

The gold medal suddenly looks more up for grabs.

That’s because the powerhouse U.S. women’s national team — ranked No. 1 in the world, winner of the past two Women’s World Cups and favoured to take its fifth Olympic gold medal in seven chances — suffered the first big upset of the Tokyo Games today, losing 3-0 to Sweden. The stunning defeat snapped a 44-match unbeaten streak for the Americans, who feature well-known veterans Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe (the latter played just 26 minutes off the bench today). But the fifth-ranked Swedes might have their number. They beat the U.S. in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Olympics — the only time the Americans have failed to reach the gold-medal game.

How the tournament works:

Twelve teams are competing. They’re divided into three groups of four (somewhat confusingly labelled E, F and G because the letters before that are used for the men’s soccer groups).

With its win over the U.S., Sweden is now in the driver’s seat in Group G, which also includes ninth-ranked Australia and No. 22 New Zealand. Group F is the Netherlands (4), Brazil (7), China (15) and African qualifier Zambia (104, and looking deserving of that ranking in today’s 10-3 rout at the hands of the Netherlands). Group E is Canada (8), Japan (10), Chile (37) and Great Britain. The British team isn’t ranked by FIFA because it only exists for the Olympics. But the vast majority of its players are from England, so that country’s ranking (6) is a good proxy.

After each team plays its three group-stage matches, the top two teams in each group and the two best third-place teams advance to the quarter-finals. From there on out, every match is single-elimination. The quarters will be played on July 30, the semis Aug. 2, and the gold- and bronze-medal matches Aug. 5 in Canadian time zones.

Canada’s remaining schedule:

  • Saturday July 24, 3:30 a.m. ET vs. Chile
  • Tuesday July 27, 7 a.m. ET vs. Great Britain

Canadian players to watch:

Christine Sinclair: Today’s match was her 300th for the Canadian national team, and the goal was her 187th. That’s more than anyone has scored in the history of international soccer, men’s or women’s. Sinclair now has three more goals than retired American great Abby Wambach, 78 more than Cristiano Ronaldo, 111 more than Lionel Messi and 110 more than Pele. Some of Sinclair’s goals are among the biggest in Canadian soccer history — including a hat trick in Canada’s epic near-upset of the U.S. in the semifinals at the 2012 Olympics in London. Sinclair led that tournament with six goals, helping Canada to its first of two consecutive bronze medals. She added three more in Rio, including one in Canada’s upset of host Brazil in the bronze match. Today’s goal was her 12th in 15 Olympic matches, and she’s now scored in four separate Olympic tournaments. At 38 years old, Sinclair is still going strong. But this could be her last Olympics. So soak in her greatness while you can.

Kadeisha Buchanan: She gets a fraction of the fanfare devoted to Sinclair and Canadian men’s stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, but Buchanan is one of the most decorated players in Canadian soccer history. As a 20-year-old in 2015, she won the Best Young Player Award at the Women’s World Cup and was shortlisted for the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award. After helping Canada win bronze at the 2016 Olympics, Buchanan joined powerhouse club Olympique Lyonnais the next year and helped them to four consecutive French league titles and four straight UEFA Women’s Champions League crowns. She was a starter in the 2020 Champions League final and is one of the best central defenders in the world. If Buchanan excelled at a flashier position, she’d probably be more famous. But, outside of Sinclair, she could be Canada’s most important player. Read more about Buchanan in this profile by John Molinaro. Read John’s breakdown of the entire Canadian team and how it stacks up with its opponents here.

Christine Sinclair opened the scoring early in the match, but Japan broke through late as the two countries played to a 1-1 draw in their Olympic opener. 9:42

Quickly…

One more key thing you should know about today:

The Canadian women’s softball team won its opener. A tougher test is coming tonight. On the first day of competition in Tokyo, and with their sport making its first Olympic appearance in 13 years, the Canadians shut out Mexico 4-0 today. Sara Groenewegen pitched four innings of no-hit ball in her first Olympic start — almost three years to the day when she nearly died from Legionnaires disease. Canada is back on the diamond tonight for a challenging matchup vs. the Unites States. The Americans have won two world championships in a row, and they’re favoured to take their fourth Olympic gold in five chances. The game starts at 8 p.m. ET, and you can watch live coverage starting at 7 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website. If you missed yesterday’s newsletter, we did a primer on women’s softball and the Canadian team. Read it here.

What to watch tonight and tomorrow morning

Besides the aforementioned Canada-U.S. softball game at 8 p.m. ET, you can live stream the other two softball games and all eight men’s soccer matches taking place Wednesday night and Thursday morning in Canadian time zones. They’re all on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports’ Tokyo 2020 website. Here’s the full schedule:

Women’s softball

  • Canada vs. United States – 8 p.m. ET
  • Mexico vs. Japan – 11 p.m. ET
  • Italy vs. Australia – 2 a.m. ET

Men’s soccer

  • Egypt vs. Spain – 3:30 a.m. ET
  • Mexico vs. France – 4 a.m. ET 
  • New Zealand vs. South Korea – 4 a.m. ET
  • Ivory Coast vs. Saudi Arabia – 4:30 a.m. ET
  • Argentina vs. Australia – 6:30 a.m. ET 
  • Japan vs. South Africa – 7 a.m. ET
  • Honduras vs. Romania – 7 a.m. ET
  • Brazil vs. Germany – 7:30 a.m. ET

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.



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