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USWNT-Canada showdown set to be classic in Olympic semifinals


The U.S. women’s national team delivered its best performance yet at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics against the Netherlands, but now prepares for its latest challenge, this coming from a familiar face from Concacaf.

Opposing Vlatko Andonovski’s side on Monday in Kashima will be rivals Canada, who ousted Brazil in a penalty shootout on Friday after neither team scored after 120 minutes of play. It will be the first Olympic showdown between the two teams since 2012, in which the USWNT ousted Canada 4-3 for a controversial victory.

Both teams will be eager to advance to the final of the summer tournament, where either Sweden or Australia will oppose them for the gold medal. It may be nine years since the two teams met in Olympic play, but the USWNT is prepared for everything Canada has to offer.

“2012 was a long time ago,” Morgan said about facing Canada. “We’ve played them every year since then pretty much. And we know them so well. Obviously, a lot of their players play in the NWSL alongside us – opponents, teammates. We’re ready to play them.”

The USWNT inched its way through the group stage in Japan, bouncing back from a Matchday 1 loss to Sweden to trounce New Zealand, tie Australia, and edge the Netherlands in a penalty shootout of its own.

Alyssa Naeher played the hero against the Dutch, saving a total of three penalty saves between the shootout and regular time, while veterans Megan Rapinoe, Morgan, and others came off the bench to score their spot kick attempts.

Andonovski’s shrewd planning paid off by starting several veterans on the bench against the Dutch, and now has them ready to go from the start against Canada on Monday. Lynn Williams scored against the Netherlands in place of Rapinoe in the starting lineup, but could be forced back to the bench in a big-time situation against the Canadians.

The veteran coach will have plenty of tough decisions to make in his first major tournament leading the USWNT.

“That was also part of the plan,” Andonovski said postmatch on Friday after leaving several key veterans on the bench against the Netherlands. “When we prepare for a game, we think about lots of things.

“In a knockout game like this, we’ve got to think about extra time, we’ve got to think about penalty kicks, we’ve got to think about different matchups on the field – even how we want to start the game and how we want to finish. So with all of that, we were very pragmatic in our approach.”

Canada has done extremely well to reach the semifinals after being paired with some tough opponents in Group E. Beverly Priestman’s side earned draws against host Japan and Great Britain while edging South American side Chile 2-1 on Matchday 2.

The Canadians held Brazil in check in the quarterfinals, seeing goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe make a pair of penalty saves to replicate Naeher’s performance against the Dutch. Canada has not defeated the Americans since March 2001 in competitive play, and the never-say-die attitude from the USWNT back on display, the odds for an upset just got a little bit tougher.

“We always believe we’re going to find a way to win,” said Naeher on Friday. “I’ve said from the beginning I just want to help my team win a gold medal. I’m proud of what I was able to do to help us get one step closer to that goal.”

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