(Reuters) – A second-half strike by Jordyn Huitema earned Canada a grinding 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying championship semi-final on Friday, to secure their place at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.
The victory also sends Canada through to Sunday’s final where they await the winner of the other semi-final, in which World and Olympic champions United States take on Mexico, with the winner also securing an Olympic berth.
Canada dominated possession in a frustrating opening half at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California but lacked inspiration in the attacking zone, managing just one shot on target.
The Canadians continued to press after the break and were finally rewarded in the 72nd minute when Huitema hit the post from close range but then coolly slotted the rebound into the back of the net for her seventh goal of the Olympic qualifying tournament.
“I think the first thing I said to the team was, that’s my luck for 2020,” said Huitema. “I said that’s all of it right there, that it came off the post and right back to my foot.
“It ranks up there, it wasn’t the prettiest but a goal is a goal and it is one of the most meaningful I have ever scored.”
Eighth-ranked Canada, bronze medal winners at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, have won all four of their matches and head to the final having yet to concede a goal.
It marked a 14th win for Canada in 14 meetings against Costa Rica, but the victors were made to earn their Tokyo ticket as their opponents, ranked 37th, came out determined to end their losing streak.
Canadian captain Christine Sinclair was kept in check by the Costa Ricans after becoming the all-time top scorer in international soccer in the tournament opener, breaking the mark held by American Abby Wambach when she netted twice in an 11-0 rout of St. Kitts and Nevis.
“Costa Rica made it difficult for us all game but we dominated and just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net,” said Sinclair, whose career international goal tally stands at 185.
“Going to the Olympics never gets old, every one of those has brought a different story, a different experience. We’re looking to get back on the podium but we had to get there first.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)