SAO JOAO DA VENDA, Portugal â€” Canada’s bid to defend its Algarve Cup title ended in a 1-0 loss to Spain in the final of the 12-team women’s soccer tournament Wednesday.
Fourth-ranked Canada trailed after five minutes when FC Barcelona’s Leila Ouahabi connected on a high shot from outside the penalty box. The goal was only the second conceded by Canada in four games at the tournament.
Still coach John Herdman can take solace from the young talent he fielded. The average age of the Canadian starting 11 was just under 22. Desiree Scott, 29, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, 30, were the only starters over the age of 23.
For Canada, who threw everything at the 14th-ranked Spaniards in search of a tying goal, it was a disappointing end to the tournament. As in the final group game against Portugal â€” a 0-0 tie â€” Canada generated a string of chances but was unable to convert.
“I remember the Algarve final last year against Brazil. We had three chances and scored two,” Herdman said, citing last year’s 2-1 win. “This game we had 11, 12 (chances) and scored zero â€” and some really good ones.
“I think the girls will be disappointed and frustrated. But at the same time it’s a performance where on any other day we probably win that match.”
Canada scored three goals in four matches at the tournament, with two from Christine Sinclair and one from Sophie Schmidt.
Herdman started Jordyn Huitema, making the 15-year-old forward from Chilliwack, B.C., the third-youngest player to appear for the women’s team behind record-holder Kara Lang and Jessie Fleming who were also 15 when they made their senior debut.
Spain came out playing a high-pressing game. Anticipating that, Herdman started Sinclair on the bench with Huitema and Nichelle Prince leading the attack. Scott started as skipper.
Herdman made changes at the 41-minute mark, sending in Sinclair for Huitema and Deanne Rose for Prince once the Spanish press had faded. That allowed him to play his Olympic front line with Janine Beckie, Sinclair and Rose leading the attack.
Lindsay Agnew came in at the 61st minute for Marie Levasseur.
The Canadians turned the screws on attack but could not convert, with Beckie a constant threat.
“Spain had good possession at times but that nothing we were troubled about,” said Herdman.
The Spanish offence was limited to a few long-range shots, one of which eluded Labbe.
“It was a great shot but Steph will be a bit disappointed,” said Herdman. “I think it moved in the air for her.”
The two teams, who had never met before, both went 2-0-1 during round-robin play.
Canada dispatched No. 15 Denmark 1-0 and No. 23 Russia 2-1 before tying No. 38 Portugal 0-0.
Spain dumped No. 7 Japan 2-1 and No. 11 Norway 3-0 and tied No. 20 Iceland 0-0 en route to the final.
Denmark finished third, defeating Australia 4-1 on penalties after the game finished at 1-1. The Netherlands placed fifth by beating Japan 3-2.
Canada’s next games are in Europe in April against No. 8 Sweden and No. 2 Germany.
“It’s what the team needs,” said Herdman. “We’ve just got to keep going â€” tough game after tough game against teams that are in peak condition.”
NOTES: Allysha Chapman and Schmidt were unavailable due to injury … The game marked the 50th cap for 21-year-old fullback Ashley Lawrence.
The Canadian Press