Let’s get one thing straight, right from the start: Canada don’t want to lose against Germany on Tuesday.
But if we’re being honest, they shouldn't exactly be crestfallen if they do.
The combination of Canada’s 3-1 win over Zimbabwe and Germany’s 2-2 draw with Australia on Saturday puts Canada atop Group F with six points, ahead of Germany with four. The Canadians have clinched a quarterfinal berth, while Germany – barring an unlikely combination of events from here on out – are also through.
Canada have never beaten Germany before (12 losses in 12 games), but a draw on Tuesday would be good enough to win the group. And although that would be a neat bit of history, here’s the thing: Canada’s medal aspirations might actually be better served by finishing second.
The tournament draw is such that the winner of Group F gets the difficult task of facing France or the USA in the quarters, while the runner-up gets a much friendlier matchup against Sweden or China.
At this point, it is worth repeating: Canada do not want to lose on Tuesday.
But don’t be surprised to see head coach John Herdman run out a youthful lineup against the Germans, an XI that could include inaugural Olympic starts for the likes of 21-year-old Nichelle Prince and 17-year-old Deanne Rose.
That’s not inherently a sign of anything untoward. Such roster rotation is pretty much necessary in a tightly-compressed tournament like the Olympics, with little chance for players to rest beyond being left out of games entirely.
It’s more important for the likes of Christine Sinclair, 33, and Diana Matheson, 32, to be healthy for the knockout round than to play big minutes in the group-stage finale, regardless of what’s at stake.
That was likely Herdman’s strategy all along, predicated on the pre-tournament assumption that Germany would win the group with nine points and Canada’s quest to finish second would rest on their capacity to defeat Australia.
The Canadians did their part in the tournament opener, beating the Aussies…but then the Germans threw a wrench in that plan by failing to do the same.
Despite that slip, the two-time World Cup champions will still come into the game against Canada as favorites, possibly with an extra bit of motivation to wash away the taste of Saturday’s draw.
So, Germany defeating Canada (if that’s what happens) shouldn’t be seen as controversial, given that it’s been the result of literally every game the two teams have ever played against each other.
But Saturday’s events have opened up a whole new possibility. What if Canada just went for it? What if Germany’s vulnerabilities have been revealed? What if the kids punch above their weight and make history on Tuesday?
It’d lock Canada into an ostensibly more difficult quarterfinal, but they’d also be playing that game riding the emotional high of knocking off a powerhouse team.
The Canadians would also draw on memories of four years ago in London, when they defeated France, and only lost to the Americans after a goal in stoppage time of the second half of extra time (and, earlier on in the match, the unexpected invocation of the arcane “six-second rule,” in the eyes of angry Canada supporters).
A semifinal rematch with the Germans (assuming it came to that) would hardly be intimidating anymore, after the group-stage victory. And a gold-medal final against the Americans (again, if it came to that) would surely cause the spontaneous combustion of any and all narrative machines north of the border.
Admittedly, that’s a whole lot of hypothetical dominoes falling into place.
But it all starts with Canada going for it against Germany. Play wide open, throw everything you’ve got at them, and see what happens.
And if Germany ends up hitting on the counterattack…oh well. That’s not so bad either.