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Jessie Fleming is key to any success Canada’s women’s team will have in 2023 World Cup

On paper, the Canadian women’s team’s recent two-game series versus Nigeria looked to be a mismatch. 

Canada, at No. 6, is 33 spots ahead of Nigeria in the current FIFA rankings, and was coming off a solid showing in February at the Alan Clark Cup where it tied hosts England (No. 8), before earning a rare victory over No. 3 Germany, and losing to ninth-ranked Spain. But coach Bev Priestman saw value in playing the Nigerians, believing that lower-ranked nations are the ones that have given Canada the hardest time during her tenure. 

The Canadians are calendared to compete in July’s CONCACAF championship in Mexico, which doubles as the qualifiers for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics. They will have to face similar adversaries to Nigeria, who will bunker defensively and try to frustrate their attacking efforts. So last Friday’s 2-0 win in Vancouver and Monday’s 2-2 draw in Langford, B.C., proved to be ideal preparation for the CONCACAF competition. 

The big takeaway for Priestman from these matches against the 11-time African champions was that her team must find ways to efficiently break down opponents who set out to defend deep against them right from the start.

“We went into the Alan Clark Cup and I felt at times we looked more threatening, more attacking, creating more chances, and then you go and play these sorts of teams that do sit in and show us this respect,” Priestman said after Monday’s match. “That might be a sign of the future, and we just have to [adjust] the little things of how you play against a team that does that, whilst making sure you don’t concede at the other end.

“Overall, I felt we looked more dynamic; now we have to fine tune and get the rhythm and the right partnerships on the pitch at the right time.”

One partnership that appears to be working is the midfield trio of Jessie Fleming, Desiree Scott and Quinn, who started together in both matches against Nigeria.

Fleming, in particular, has progressed by leaps and bounds since signing with English club Chelsea in 2020. Playing at such a big club has been the equivalent of Fleming earning an advanced degree, as it’s allowed her game to mature and progress. Whereas she used to float in and out of games for Canada, she is now the team’s main orchestrator in midfield, crucially linking the defense and attack. 

It’s become crystal clear that Fleming, who scored the winner in Vancouver, will take over the mantle of leadership for this Canadian team once Christine Sinclair retires, such is the importance of what she brings to the table both on and off the field. 

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