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  • Canada claims Cyprus Cup championship (again)


    Congratulations to the Canadian women's national team, which claimed its second straight Cyprus Cup trophy earlier today. Now, here's hoping it's our last.

    Strange, I know, considering this country's dearth of footballing hardware, that I should be advocating such a thing. But I'll get to the future momentarily. For now, the glorious golden present.

    Cobbled-together social media reports suggest Canada opened the scoring in the 20th minute, when high winds turned a simple Dutch back-pass into an adventure, and Jonelle Filigno was able to capitalize. But Claudia van den Heiligenberg then became the first player to score on Canada in the tournament, equalizing five minutes before halftime.

    A rainy second half couldn't produce a goal, but in extra time an unlikely hero emerged (just like in last year's Cyprus Cup final) when Emily Zurrer potted the winner, her second of the tournament, following a corner kick.

    Today's result is a great thing, no doubt, and I'm not trying to diminish the accomplishment. But given Canada's reaffirmed status as an elite side in the women's game, I think we've outgrown the Cyprus Cup.


    The tournament has been occasionally referred to as a "World Cup tune-up", which is technically accurate, of course. But consider that Canada, at #9, was the second highest-ranked team participating in this year's Cyprus Cup (France is #8, while North Korea [#6] pulled out shortly before the tournament began). Canada's opposition in the Cyprus Cup final, Holland, comes in at #15. (Paragraph edited to correct earlier error.)

    Now, granted, England (#10) is only a single point behind Canada in the FIFA rankings, and Italy comes in next at #11. Canada faced (and beat) both of these sides during this year's Cyprus Cup... and the final against the Dutch was definitely no cake-walk either. In fact, it was a hard-fought game where, to use the ol' cliches, Canada had to "dig deep" to find a way to win. Those are the sorts of games that build character and camaraderie.

    But consider some of the opposition at the Algarve Cup, running concurrently over in Portugal: the USA (#1), Sweden (#4), Japan (#5), Norway (#7) and China (#13). In an odd twist, though, it's #17-ranked Iceland up against the States in today's final.

    Canada may not win the Algarve Cup (if we did, it certainly wouldn't be easy), but the experience gained from tough battles against those quality opponents would certainly do wonders for the players in the long run.

    On the youth side, most in the Canadian soccer community are clamouring for a greater emphasis on player development, where wins (and trophies) matter less than maximizing an individual player's talents and potential. With the men's national team, head coach Stephen Hart has arranged friendlies with highly-ranked opponents such as Ukraine and Greece, specifically to provide a learning experience for his players.

    The women's national team should follow the same path. The Algarve Cup is by invitation only, and Canada hasn't been there since 2004*. I have no idea if there are political reasons behind Canada's long-running exclusion, but I can only imagine that if, in 2012, Canada said "hey, Algarve Cup, how 'bout us?", the organizers would drop a team like Romania in a heartbeat (sorry Romania).

    This Canadian women's national team, from everything I've heard the players say since Carolina Morace came on board, is a squad that has reveled in being given the opportunity to learn, develop and grow. The four trophies in the past 13 months have been nice icing on the cake, for sure.

    But if these players were told that they'd be stepping up to a new plane of competition, where the only thing guaranteed was a tough fight, I get the sense they'd gladly accept the challenge. If anything, they'd take it as a compliment, as affirmation of all the hard work they've already put in toward re-establishing Canada as a dominant force in women's soccer.

    That's how this suggestion is meant. Not as an attempt to belittle today's accomplishment, or of the efforts put into achieving it. Rather, as a self-evident statement about the women's national team, based upon their performance over the past 18 months:

    Canada is a big fish once again. It's time for a bigger pond.

    *Paragraph edited to correct error, re: Canada's last appearance at Algarve Cup.

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