Canada draw vs. Netherlands enough to book Round of 16 place

Ashley Lawrence, a 20-year-old midfielder, pounced early Monday night in Montreal to give Canada the goal they needed to secure a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands that was good enough to clinch a first-place finish in Group A of the Women’s World Cup.

Kirsten van de Ven’s 87th-minute goal got the Dutch level and earned them the vital point which all but assures their participation in the final 16.

First place for Canada means that the host nation will play a third-place finisher Sunday night in Vancouver to begin knockout round play. Because China and New Zealand finished 2-2 in the other group match, China wound up second on more goals than the Dutch while the New Zealanders were eliminated.

The Netherlands remain very much alive to qualify as one of the four best third-placed sides with four points to their credit.

Lawrence gave Canada the perfect start, pounding home a drive from nine yards after Christine Sinclair began the 10th-minute play. Sophie Schmidt saw a shot blocked only for the rebound to set up Lawrence for her first international goal.

Canada did not build off the early goal in the noisy Olympic Stadium, however, allowing the Netherlands to have too much possession in midfield, from which they gained some attacking confidence and began to come into the match.

The Netherlands had a golden chance to pull level in the 29th minute but Danielle Van de Donk was unable to hit a cross from the right, the ball breaking off her shins to lob into the hands of Canada keeper Erin McLeod. Any precision from Van de Donk would have put McLeod in real trouble as she was left alone by her defenders.

Both sides started the second half on the front foot, McLeod having to deal with a Sherida Spitze shot from the edge of the box, then Lawrence firing straight into the arms of Loes Geurts at the other end inside the first five minutes. A poor clearance gave teenager Jessie Fleming a chance to stride forward and fire from 20 yards but her shot was never staying down and did not trouble Guerts, and Canada’s real chances soon became few.

Van de Donk had another open look for the Netherlands in the 58th minute but sliced her shot well wide of the near post when she had been put in on the right by Lieke Martens. Canada, which had not allowed a goal in the tournament coming into the match, was content to absorb in the closing stages, knowing that even a draw was likely going to be good enough to allow them a first-place finish in the group.

For the Dutch, that meant space to create chances but a lack of precision on the final pass coupled with Canada’s aggressive defending hampered the comeback.

And when tackles appeared to be mistimed, the Dutch didn’t catch any favorable decisions from the North Korean referee Ri Hyang Ok. The Netherlands no doubt will feel that she missed at least one clear penalty midway through the second period which might have opened a road back into the match.

That said, the Dutch never quit probing and McLeod had to be excellent in the 84th minute to deny Manon Melis. She could do nothing three minutes later when Van de Ven came open on the top right to drive home a goal the Dutch certainly deserved off their storming final minutes.