Prince, Leon on target as reigning Olympic champions Canada blank Reggae Girlz 2-0 in first-leg playoff

By September 22, 2023
Canada's Ashley Lawrence (left) gets away from Jamaica's Deneisha Blackwood during their first-leg Olympic qualifying playoff contest at the National Stadium on Friday. Canada's Ashley Lawrence (left) gets away from Jamaica's Deneisha Blackwood during their first-leg Olympic qualifying playoff contest at the National Stadium on Friday. Canada Media

Jamaica...0

Canada...2

Prince (18th), Leon (90+2)

Jamaica's senior Reggae Girlz dreams of an historic Olympic Games qualification is all but up in smoke, as they suffered a 0-2 defeat to Canada in their first-leg playoff encounter at the National Stadium on Friday. 

Goals from Nichelle Prince in the 18th and the menacing Adriana Leon in the 90+2 minutes was enough to lift the Bev Priestman-coached reigning Olympic champions to a crucial advantage heading into Tuesday's second leg which will be played before a sold-out crowd at BMO Field in Toronto.

For Lorne Donaldson and his Girlz it will be a case of pulling off the improbable win in a hostile environment, if they are to progress.

The Girlz started out fairly disciplined, as they were quick on the ball and did well to contain Canada in the early exchanges. 

In fact, the Girlz looked more threatening in opening play, but their first real chance in the final third came from Deneisha Blackwood’s teasing 10th-minute free kick, which had to be mopped up by the Canadian defenders. 

Such was the Girlz discipline when they gradually gained the ascendancy that Canada was hardly allowed to play their usual fluent passing game to get into the final third.

Instead, they were on the back foot and almost found themselves a goal down in the 14th minute. This, as Jody Brown was sent on the break by Atlanta Primus, but the diminutive forward’s shot was charged down by a defender. 

All the Reggae Girlz hard work was undone in the 18th when poor positioning by Blackwood allowed Ashley Lawrence to slip further down the right channel and deliver a weighted cross, which was expertly headed in by Prince, giving Rebecca Spencer no chance at a save.

Still, the Girlz fought on and again went close in the 29th courtesy of Brown, who orchestrated a tidy build up and picked out Cheyna Matthews on the left, but the run amounted to nothing.

Matthews again went on the break five minutes later, as she shook her defender and should have initially struck a left footer, but was hesitant in doing so. When she belatedly got a shot off her favoured right foot, her marker had already recovered and averted the danger.

Though the score remained unchanged at half-time, the Jamaicans seemingly failed to recover from the manner in which they ended the first half. A defensive lapse immediately on the resumption allowed Leon through on goal and it took a tidy save from Spencer to deny her.

Canada again went close from the resulting corner with Prince's effort from the top of the 18-yard box rattling the crossbar. 

By virtue of pushing a high line in their probe for the equalizer, the Girlz absorbed some amount of pressure from Canada's break, as Leon got by Konya Plummer a couple of times but found Spencer in her way.

The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper did her utmost best to keep the Girlz in the game as she was again called upon when Cloe Lacasse got away down the left channel in the 64th and struck a left-footed effort which Spencer had to parry at her near post.

The Girlz had their best chance of the second half a minute later when substitute Tiffany Cameron’s shot from a rebound went just over the crossbar, after Khadija “Bunny” Shaw's initial effort was thwarted by Vanessa Gilles. 

But just when the moderate turnout in the stadium may have harboured a glimmer of hope that the Girlz would pull one back, Leon broke their hearts with a cheeky finish at Spencer’s near post from a Julia Grosso cross to put Canada 2-0 up.

Despite being down, the Jamaicans continued the push to at least reduce the deficit, but when Plummer fired a tame left-footed effort straight at Canada’s goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, deep inside added time, it all but summed up their lukewarm evening.

Teams: Jamaica -Rebecca Spencer, Allyson Swaby, Konya Plummer, Tiernny Wiltshire, Deneisha Blackwood, Vyan Sampson, Drew Spence, Jody Brown (Solai Washington 55th), Atlanta Primus (Kayla McKenna 71st), Cheyna Matthews (Tiffany Cameron 55th), Khadija Shaw

Subs not used: Sydney Schneider, Liya Brooks, Sashana Campbell, Chantelle Swaby, Kameron Simmonds, Olufolasade Adamolekun, Trudi Carter, Shaneil Buckley, Paige Bailey-Gayle

Booked: None

Canada -Kailen Sheridan, Sydney Collins, Kadeisha Buchanan, Rebecca Quinn, Ashley Lawrence (Gabby Carle 82nd), Vanessa Gilles, Nichelle Prince (Jordyn Huitema 64th), Jessie Fleming (Julia Grosso 79th), Adriana Leon, Cloe Lacasse, Jade Rose (Shelina Zadorsky 79th)

Subs not used: Lysianne Proulx, Sabrina D'Angelo, Olivia Smith, Marie-Yasmine Alidou, Evelyne Viens, Christine Sinclair, Simi Awujo, Bianca St-Georges 

Booked: Gillies (54th), Grosso (90+5)

Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva (USA)

Assistant referees: Kathryn Nesbitt (USA); Felisha Mariscal (USA)

Fourth official: Natalie Simon (USA)

Match Commissary: Techell McLean (SKN)

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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