Japan forward Mana Iwabuchi (8) during the first half of a SheBelieves Cup soccer match against England Sunday, March 8, 2020, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
- Canada, the only nation to medal at the two previous Olympics, kicks off its tournament Wednesday against host Japan
- Japan, Olympic silver medalists in 2012, has been building for these Games and has a youthful squad at its disposal
- Read on for a preview, full odds and a best bet for this opening game for this pair of Olympic hopefuls
Two of the heavyweight programs of the women’s game go head to head on Wednesday, July 21, for their Olympic opener. Having missed out on the Rio Olympics, Japan will be desperate to add to the silver medal it picked up in London in 2012, itself coming on the heels of its surprise 2011 World Cup win against the US.
Meanwhile, Canada will be looking to upgrade the color of its Olympic soccer medals from the past two Games, having managed bronze on both occasions.
Japan vs Canada Odds
|Japan vs Canada||JPN -1.5 (+170) | CAN +1.5 (-310)||JPN -150 | CAN +425
|Ov 2.5 (+130) | Un 2.5 (-165)|
Odds as of July 20 at DraftKings
Japan Has Historical Edge
As you might expect from one of just four countries to win either a World Cup or Olympic gold in women’s soccer, Japan has held the edge over Canada in the history of the rivalry.
Japan is 7-4-3 all-time against Canada and rolled to a 4-0 victory the last time the two teams met, in a 2019 friendly. Canada has to go all the way back to the 2003 World Cup to find the last time it beat Japan, with Christine Sinclair, still playing after 299 appearances for her national team, finding the net that day.
Canada Struggling for Offense
Despite the presence of Sinclair, the all-time leader in international goals in the women’s (and men’s) game with 186, Canada has struggled to score under head coach Bev Priestman. The team has scored just six goals in its seven games in 2021 and didn’t find the net at all in its most recent outings – scoreless draws with Brazil and the Czech Republic.
🇨🇦 Christine Sinclair: 186 ⚽
🇵🇹 Cristiano Ronaldo: 109 ⚽
Ronaldo still needs to score 77 more Portugal goals to match Sinclair’s all-time top scorer record 😳 pic.twitter.com/Bnmjkdl9PI
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 25, 2021
However, Canada will be relying on Sinclair’s experience in big games to come through in this tournament. The Portland Thorns striker has scored 11 goals in 15 Olympics matches, with Tokyo set to be her fourth Summer Games.
#CANWNT ⚽️ Leaders
Most international “A” goals since 2016
28 Janine Beckie
28 Christine Sinclair
14 Adriana Leon
Most goals at previous Olympic Games
2016 Beckie & Sinclair, three each
2012 Sinclair, six (tournament leader)
2008 Sinclair, two goals#RiseHigher 🍁 pic.twitter.com/1dhpBPkvXR
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) June 23, 2021
Canada will be hoping she gets some help, too, with the likes of Jessie Fleming being relied upon to bring her title-winning experience with Chelsea this past season to the national team setup.
Japan Reliant On Top Gunner
The hopes for the host nation have very firmly been pinned onto their own star attacker, in this case, Mana Iwabuchi. The striker has recently joined Arsenal in the Women’s Super League and has had a glittering career with the national team, being part of both the 2011 World Cup win and the Olympic silver medal the following year.
WHAT A GOAL! 🇯🇵
Mana Iwabuchi with a chip over goalkeeper Gallardo in Orlando! It’s a tied game. #ESPvJPN | 1-1 pic.twitter.com/j5dHhPJQFC
— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) March 5, 2020
In all, she has 35 goals in 77 appearances, but much of her success has come in more recent years, following the retirement of legends such as Homare Sawa. Iwabuchi was named MVP of the 2018 Asia Cup and has six goals and four assists in Japan’s five pre-Olympic warm-up games, all of which were victories.
Japan vs Canada Key Stats
|5-0-0||Record In 2021||3-2-2|
|Did Not Qualify||2016 Olympics Performance||Bronze|
Hosts Have Perfect Blend
In addition to Iwabuchi, Japan also has the luxury of calling on the talents of captain Saki Kumagai, who now plays for Bayern Munich after winning five Champions League titles with Lyon. The defender is ably abetted in the middle of the park by the presence of Yui Hasegawa, who provides goals and stability.
And what a goal that was from Saki Kumagai! That’s another tally for Lyon shortly before halftime! #WOLOL | 0-2 | #UWCL pic.twitter.com/sKa3LqS0dX
— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) August 30, 2020
Those two will help lead a team that is heavily reliant on youth, with the country calling up eight players with 10 or less caps to the last World Cup, a tournament that ended in the last 16 with a narrow loss to eventual runners-up the Netherlands.
WWC | 🇯🇵 Moeka Minami (20) was almost flawless on her World Cup debut. ⤵️
✅ 90 min
🔁 105/114 passes completed
🎯 92.1% pass comp
🚀 10/12 long passes
⚔️ 12 ball recoveries
🚀 4 clearances
From CB, she couldn’t will her team to score but she kept a tough 🇦🇷 squad at bay. 💎 pic.twitter.com/Xr4rulavsK
— Football Wonderkids (@fbwonderkids) June 11, 2019
Seven of those players are back in the squad for these Olympics, such as central defender Moeka Minami, and their youthful exuberance will be vital to lift Japan back to its title-chasing ways of years gone by.
Best bet: Draw (+275)
For the last 20 years, Paul Attfield has worked in sports media. Starting out in his native Britain with the likes of The Independent, he eventually switched continents, with his work appearing in the likes of the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Yahoo Sports since.