The Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims will witness a meeting between two teams in very similar positions, both in terms of their standing in world football and their position in Group E.
Netherlands vs Canada could easily be a quarter or semi-final, and could well be the latter if both are still in the tournament come July, but the two teams will have to continue to improve as they progress for this to happen.
To watch Canada in the early rounds of this tournament is to watch a team doing a job, and little more. This brand of football can be dismissed as functional and not the type which will win a tournament, but in truth functional teams can, and often do, end up winning trophies. The Canadians are one of only three teams in the World Cup to have kept a clean sheet in all of their matches so far, after all.
A big test of Canada’s credentials will come against the Netherlands. It will be the first time they have faced a team on a similar level to themselves, and the same can be said of their opponents.
Both are among the dark horses for the tournament: not quite good enough to be considered favourites, but not at a level where they can be written off altogether. This is the first chance each has encountered to assess their standing among the teams ranked in the top ten in FIFA’s rankings, and it will be a fitting end to Group E.
Netherlands currently lead the group on goals scored as the two sides are level on points and both have a +3 goal difference. Both are already through to the next round after scraping 1-0 wins in their opening games, when they might have been expected to win more comfortably, but winning their second matches more easily. This game will decide which side tops the group, but there might not be any benefit to be had from doing so.
Group E is one of only two groups whose winner will not face a third place qualifier, where there can be a big drop off in quality. First in Group E will play the runner up from Group D — likely Japan, and second will play the runner up of Group F — likely Sweden.
So rather than face a third-place side whose ranking is likely to be outside the top 30, they will face a side from the top ten in FIFA’s rankings, and this difference in ranking can mean a massive difference in quality.
It’s for this reason that the final group game will be important in preparing Canada and Netherlands for what is to come, and there are a couple of key players who could play a big part in the progress of both these sides.
36-year-old Canada captain Christine Sinclair has been a goal-scoring machine throughout her career, but while goals have always flowed, other than a couple of CONCACAF Championships the international honours have always evaded her.
She is only four away from becoming the player with the most goals in international football — a record currently held by former United States’ forward Abby Wambach — but unlike Wambach, Sinclair has never won a World Cup.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, have in their ranks a player who could go on to eclipse both Sinclair and Wambach in the goal scoring stakes.
With her brace against Cameroon, Vivianne Miedema became the Netherlands’ all time top scorer at just 22 years old, taking her total to 60 goals in 77 games, one ahead of Manon Melis who retired from international football in 2016.
Other players, especially those from France and the United States, may take more of the headlines on the international stage, but Miedema is up there with the best as she ghosts into goal scoring positions and finishes her chances with unerring accuracy, more often than not.
She scored a record 22 goals in 20 games for Women’s Super League champions Arsenal last season, claiming the golden boot and also being named PFA Women’s Player of the Year at the end of season awards. In all competitions she racked up 31 goals in 26 starts, which comfortably puts her in the world class bracket.
She is joined in the forward line by the likes of Danielle van de Donk and Leike Martens who could test the stingy Canada defence.
It’s for this reason that the other key player in this game could be Canada centre back Kadeisha Buchanan. The 23-year-old was named the best young player at the previous World Cup, and has now progressed to become one of the best defenders, full stop, since moving to Lyon. She hasn’t been a regular with last season’s Champions League winners, but learning from Wendie Renard in France won’t have done her any harm.
Of course, this being the final game of the group stage and with both teams already qualified for the next round, there could be some rotation, but there’s no doubt that goal-chasers Sinclair and Miedema will want to play every game, and Buchanan is key in the Canadian defence.