The Canadian women’s soccer team has somehow again found their way into the Olympic semi-finals and the hearts of a nation.
Why are people so surprised? Haven’t you ever seen the Canadian women in the Olympic semis before? I have.
And if you are surprised, who should be there instead?
So far Canada has beaten 5th ranked Australia 2-1, surprise qualifiers Zimbabwe (93rd), number 2 ranked Germany 2-1, and number 3 France 1-0.
All 4 teams remaining in the Olympic tournament are top 10 in FIFA World rankings (Canada – 10; Brazil – 8; Sweden – 6; Germany – 2). The parity in women’s soccer has never been higher.
Looking at how Canada’s opposition from the 2016 Olympics performed on the global stage in the last decade I’d say we match up well.
In World Cups since 1991 when they failed to qualify, the Canadian Women are perennial attendees. They finished 4th in 2003, then were eliminated in the group stages in ’07 and ’11. Even still, they were actually disappointed to be stopped in the quarter finals of the 2015 tournament. How dare they expect to win?
In the Olympics, Canada reached the quarters in 2008 and should have been in the gold medal game in 2012 but settled for bronze, beating the French in the consolation match.
So here they are on a New England Patriots style redemption year.
As for the other teams, the script is similar.
In World Cup competition, France didn’t qualify for the first time until 2003, losing in the group stage. They missed again in 2007, rebounded for 4th in 2011, and bowed out in the quarters last year.
Australia didn’t qualify in 1991, didn’t make it past the group stages from 1995-2003, then reached the quarters three straight times, but never getting further.
Germany is the most impressive. They’ve never missed reaching the knock out stage of the World Cup, winning it back to back in 2003 and 2007. However, in 2011 they lost in the quarters and that result cost them a spot in the 2012 Olympics. They finished 4th in the 2015 World Cup.
In Olympic competition since 2008, the consistency nod actually goes to the Canadians.
Germany rattled off three straight bronzes, the last in 2008, before missing out on the 2012 tournament altogether as mentioned earlier.
France didn’t qualify until 2012, earning 4th with the loss to Canada for the bronze.
Australia reached the group stage in 2000 and made the quarters in 2004, but failed to qualify for the tournament again until this year.
So again I ask, who should be there instead of Canada? Canada seems to be just as good or better than these teams over the course of three straight Olympics. Yet would you ever call a win over Canada by France, Germany, or England, or even Australia, an upset? Probably not.
So with that, instead of calling the 2016 Canadian Women’s soccer representatives an underdog team, a surprise team, or a Cinderella team, maybe we just call them a team.
A team who, just like any other top 10 team in any sport, sometimes beats the top 5 teams in the world and sometimes doesn’t.
A team who has every reason, current or historic, to expect to be exactly where they are.