Canadian soccer women set for ‘good go’ vs. powerhouse Germans

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, left, has shone early for Canada in the Rio Olympic soccer tournament. She was named Canada's starter after veteran Erin McLeod, right, sustained a knee injury that will keep her sidelined for up to two years. © Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images/File

 

Stephanie Labbé has made a name for herself with the Canadian women’s Olympic soccer team as a ball distributor and vocal leader who sets up the attack with passing. She’s also not bad at stopping the ball.

The Stony Plain, Alta., goalkeeper turned aside all 12 Australian shots in Canada’s 2-0 tournament-opening win on Wednesday and should be well rested to face the heavily favoured Germans on Tuesday (CBC, cbc.ca/olympics, 3 p.m. ET) after giving way to Sabrina D’Angelo in Saturday’s victory over a weaker Zimbabwe side.

“You always prepare yourself to play, so you’re ready no matter what,” the 29-year-old Labbé told the Edmonton Journal ahead of the Rio tourney. “I’m just trying to take it day by day, and so far, that’s been working for me.”

Labbé is one of 12 players making her Olympic debut with the Canadian squad, which sits atop the Group F standings with a 2-0-0 record and has qualified for Friday’s quarter-finals in Brazil.

Part of Canada’s roster at last year’s World Cup and Pan Am Games in Toronto, she was thrust into the role of starting goalkeeper for Rio after Erin McLeod went down with a knee injury that will sideline the veteran for up to two years.

 

Labbé, who first represented Canada in 2003 at the under-20 level, embraced a leadership role on the Pan Am team. She also embarked on a professional career before returning to North America this season to play with Washington of the National Women’s Soccer League.

“She brings that confidence in the back [end]. She’ll definitely be an asset back there and bring that calm confidence that we’ll need,” said veteran Canadian national team midfielder Desiree Scott of Labbé, one of three top goalkeeper nominees in Sweden’s top division with KIF Orebro.

A calm confidence would serve the Canadians well on Tuesday against a German outfit they have never beaten and one coming off a 6-1 dismantling of Zimbabwe in its Rio opener. Winners of Olympic bronze in 2000, 2004 and 2008, Germany edged Canada 2-1 in the last meeting two years ago in a friendly at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.

At 1-1-0, the Germans sit two points back of Canada — the 2012 Olympic bronze medallists — following a 2-2 draw with Australia on Saturday. The top two teams in each of the three first-round groups, plus the two best third-place finishers, advance to the quarter-finals.

“It was crucial that we came out of these first two games with six points,” said Canadian head coach John Herdman, whose charges held the ball for 61 per cent of Saturday’s match. “It puts us in a good situation to have a good go at Germany … and to give rest where it’s needed to players that have been putting big shifts in.”

Defender Kadeisha Buchanan will get some rest in the form of a one-game ban. The Brampton, Ont., native was handed her second yellow card of the tournament on Saturday when she failed to move back from a Zimbabwe free kick and delayed on her retreat.

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