Olympic qualifiying settled, not done
VANCOUVER, BC - CONCACAF's berths in the women's Olympic field are settled. That doesn't mean everything is.
Cross-border bragging rights and an intra-confederation rivalry still have to be determined, which the United States and Canada will resolve Sunday to finish the CONCACAF Olympic women's qualifying tournament (5pm at BC Place, or watch live on Sportsnet).
With the purpose of the tournament already achieved, determining the region's two qualifiers, some have suggested Sunday's final is meaningless.
"You try telling the players it's a glorified friendly playing against the U.S.," Canada coach John Herdman said after his side beat Mexico 3-1 Friday night to clinch its spot in the London Games field. "The girls are ready for it."
The United States has won 42 of 50 games against the Canadians with only three losses. The teams battled for the CONCACAF Olympic crown in 2008, when the Americans prevailed on penalty kicks 6-5 after a 1-1 draw. It's been nearly 11 years - and 24 matches - since the Canadians beat the United States, 3-0 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
"It's USA vs. Canada," Herdman said. "It's a derby. I've been in them. New Zealand vs. Australia. England vs. Scotland. Canada vs. America. It's one of the all-time derbies. I know Canadians are going to turn up.
"They're No. 1 in the world. The pressure is on them. They don't frighten us. They're a team we'd love to tip over on home soil. They don't come up here often."
Striker Christine Sinclair, whose two goals against Mexico raised her tournament-leading total to nine, welcomed the challenge.
"Is not too often you get a chance to play the best team in the world," she said. "We will absolutely use it as a building block toward London.
"We might face them in London. So, we'll recover as much as possible. It's an enjoyable game. For once, the pressure's off. I think both teams are going to enjoy it."
After the three-time and defending champion United States defeated Costa Rica 3-0 earlier Friday to secure its fifth consecutive trip to the Olympics, U.S. captain and central defender Christie Rampone said the Americans had one more goal in this competition.
"It's definitely a good feeling coming off a win tonight, knowing we want to finish this off," said Rampone, who qualified for her fourth successive Olympics. "We're still trying to get better and still trying to perform as a team. What better match to play and go for the final. . . . We're all on ice packs, still preparing for the next game. It's important. We don't want to end it here."
Both sides have momentum. The Americans have outscored their four opponents by a combined 34-0 since arriving in Vancouver. Canada has allowed only one goal, Veronica Perez's tally midway through the second half of Friday's win.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage indicated she and her team were too tired and still focused on the Costa Rica match to plan ahead for Sunday.
"It's funny," she said. "We talked about that after the game. We looked at each other and we just . . . we don't know. We need to enjoy this big win against Costa Rica.
(On Saturday], we will look at it. I'll tell you this. Every time we play, we try to find a winning, starting lineup. We will compete, that's for sure."
The match will feature a rare confrontation of 100-plus goal-scorers. Sinclair and her U.S. counterpart Abby Wambach both have increased their career scoring totals in the tournament to 129 - one short of Kristine Lilly's tally for second most in women's soccer history. Retired American Mia Hamm holds the record with 158.
"Abby's led that team for years," Sinclair said. "She's a constant goal threat. She just has this fighting spirit, that never die attitude. You always can count on her to if not score, to get some good chances."