Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you are saying farewell to those that have left a positive impression. That was the case earlier this month when Canada hosted Mexico in a friendly at BC Place stadium in Vancouver.

In their first game since last summer’s bronze medal success at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, Canadian supporters saw the veteran trio of Marie-Eve Nault, Melissa Tancredi and Rhian Wilkinson make their final appearances for the North American nation, as Canada defeated Mexico 3-2 on 4 February.

The friendly not only celebrated the illustrious careers of Nault, Tancredi and Wilkinson, as well as Canada’s Olympic bronze medal achievements at London 2012 and Rio 2016, it also showcased the players that will lead John Herdman’s side in the years ahead.

Still, the influence of the retiring trio on Canada’s younger players remains significant. “I think they’ve just taught me so much, in terms of their experience,” Canadian forward Deanne Rose told FIFA.com. “I’ve obviously been a new player on the team, so they’ve really taken the younger players and tried to give us as much of their information that they’ve gained over the years. I just thank them for everything that they’ve done.”

Passing the torch
Celebrating her 18th birthday early next month, Rose is one of the bright new talents in an evolving Canadian squad that boasts some of women’s football’s stars of the future. Along with fellow striker Janine Beckie and playmaker Jessie Fleming, Rose played a key role in helping Canada return to the Olympic podium last August.

This emerging generation of Canadian women’s players is considered the most technically proficient group to represent their country at international level. With Herdman having clearly stated his intention to make Canada a top team in the women’s game, their focus on a possession-oriented style with players versatile enough to play in more than one position could see Canada become a force to be reckoned with.

I think for us, we’re number four in the world right now, and not taking any steps backwards.

Jessie Fleming, Canada midfielder.

“It has to be that way in the women’s game, if you want to be a top team,” Beckie said. “You have to have what we call hybrid players, who can play in multiple positions. Ashley Lawrence is a perfect example of that – a midfielder who played and excelled at full-back in the Olympics and provided us with amazing opportunities. Then you have Jessie [Fleming], who can play every position in the midfield, and Sinc [Christine Sinclair], who can play the midfield and the front line.

“In order to achieve the things he [Herdman] is asking us to achieve, that takes a little bit of getting out of your comfort zone as a player to be able to step towards that, but it’s really important and something we’re definitely going towards.”

Focus on France
2017 is seen as the start of the next cycle in the women’s international game, as teams worldwide look towards the goal of securing a spot at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™.

For Canada, the build-up includes a busy schedule this year, starting with the defence of the Algarve Cup they won in 2016. Herdman’s side will face Denmark (1 March), Russia (3 March), and hosts Portugal (6 March) in Group 1, with the final set for 8 March. That is followed by two challenging friendlies away to Sweden and defending European champions Germany in April before returning home in June for a two-match friendly series against CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica.

Though women’s football’s showpiece event is more than two years away, the Canadians have France 2019 and becoming the world’s top team clearly in their sights. “I think for us, we’re number four in the world right now, and not taking any steps backwards,” Fleming said. “I think it’s pushing towards what it means to be the number one team in the world, the consistency of our game, and how can we keep winning games for three years.”