Canada edges Costa Rica 1-0 to earn a spot in the Olympics

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              Canada defender Ashley Lawrence brings the ball downfield during the first half of a CONACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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CARSON, Calif. (AP) — With a spot in the Tokyo Olympics secured, Canada has set its sights on the next step.

Jordyn Huitema scored in the 72nd minute and Canada qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a 1-0 semifinal victory Friday over Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.

Canada has won the bronze medal at the last two Olympics.

“Ever since we came out of the World Cup, we’ve been setting new goals,” Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said. “We definitely looked a little bit beyond the qualifying because we want to be at the podium again. I think we have the team for it.”

The top-ranked U.S. national team earned the region’s other Olympic berth with a 4-0 victory over Mexico in the late match Friday. Canada will play the United States on Sunday in the tournament title game.

.Canada has finished as runner-up to the United States in the last three CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers.

By winning its group handily, eighth-ranked Canada avoided facing the United States in the semis. Costa Rica, ranked No. 37 in the world, has never made the 12-team field for the Olympics, although Las Ticas did play in the 2015 World Cup.

“We need to remember that women’s football in our country is going through a big change, also we need to remember that for the past two months we’ve had good results,” Costa Rica coach Amelia Valverde said through a translator. “But we need to keep having these type of games, we have to keep competing against big teams and we need to keep believing.”

Canada didn’t score but pressured the Costa Ricans for much of the first half. Shirley Cruz gave Costa Rica a good chance in the 27th minute, but her shot went wide.

Canada cleared a dangerous Costa Rica free kick in the 41st minute and the teams were scoreless at the half.

Heiner-Moller said Costa Rica sat deep, and Canada didn’t have the room to get forward.

Canada seemed to sense the urgency in the second half. The team finally broke through with Huitema’s goal. Her initial shot bounced off the goalpost but she was able to score on the rebound. It was the seventh goal of the tournament for Huitema, who plays for Paris-Saint Germain.

Afterward she mouthed to teammate Desiree Scott, “Whew!”

Gloriana Villalobos had a chance for Costa Rica in the 82nd minute, but her attempt went up and over the goal.

When the final whistle blew, Heiner-Moller pumped his fist.

“Yes, it hurts, but we need to keep believing in our work, in our time,” Valverde said.

Canada Captain Christine Sinclair, who became the all-time leading international goals scorer during the group stage, went into the match with 186 goals. She was honored by CONCACAF before the match. She has 11 career goals against Costa Rica.

Canada has won all 14 matches between the teams, outscoring Costa Rica 46-6. The teams also met four years ago in the semifinals of the qualifiers, with Canada securing the berth with a 3-1 victory.