TORONTO — Canada's women's soccer team finished the job Tuesday. The reigning Olympic champions can sleep well knowing they're going to the 2024 Paris Games.
The 10th-ranked Canadians beat No. 37 Jamaica 4-1 on aggregate to earn the last CONCACAF entry in the 12-country field for the Games.
Canada won 2-1 on Tuesday at BMO Field in the second game of the two-legged Olympic qualifier after earning a 2-0 victory at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica on Friday.
"It means everything," forward Adriana Leon said. "To be able to go back to the Olympics and defend our gold medal, it's everything we wanted and hopefully (we can) just go to the Olympics firing, ready to bring home another gold medal."
The team celebrated post-game to the tunes of DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win" and Beyonce's "Run The World (Girls)," among other songs with the Canadian faithful.
Clinching the Olympic berth served as a high point after what's been a tough 2023 for the squad, between its labour dispute with Canada Soccer and failing to advance from the group stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup in July.
"There's few words that can describe (it)," defender Shelina Zadorsky said. "Just everything the team has been through, the ups and downs of results of the World Cup.
"But I think the resilience everyone showed and just the team spirit, to come back in a tough game tonight. And credit to Jamaica, they fought well … I'm just really proud of everyone."
Canada head coach Bev Priestman spoke glowingly of her team's disposition.
"I think I've been on a journey now with a group of players who've had the ultimate high, probably had the ultimate low," Priestman said. "And then I've seen them come out swinging.
"The bit that inspires me about the group is character, fight, hard work, working for the person next to you … probably that was what was lacking at times in that World Cup. … Everybody's put a real shift in, players and staff, to do whatever we could to turn this around."
Cloe Lacasse and Jordyn Huitema scored for Canada in front of a sold-out crowd of 29,212 which set a new record for a men's or women's national team game in Ontario.
"We knew that Jamaica was going to come out with absolutely everything so we didn't just have to match that, we had to top it," Lacasse said.
"Getting that home crowd, sold-out BMO (Field), it definitely was the 12th man, like Bev said, and it gave us that extra boost until the very end of the game."
Drew Spence netted Jamaica's lone goal.
Canada has won all 10 of its previous meetings with Jamaica, outscoring the Reggae Girlz 62-2.
The U.S. qualified directly for the Games by defeating Canada 1-0 in the CONCACAF W Championship final in 2022. Jamaica, which lost 3-0 to Canada in the semifinal, defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the third-place playoff to set up the qualifier with Canada.
The Canadian women have taken part in the last four Olympics, winning gold, bronze and bronze after finishing eighth at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Priestman said Canada will enter the Olympics on the hunt.
"I think this team is better when they're going after something," Priestman said. "And I think ultimately, we're going after putting the wrong, right of that World Cup … the minute we're in (the mindset of) defending a gold (medal), you're taking a step backward.
"We're going to go into that Olympics knowing off the back of the World Cup and I think we'll come out swinging and that's when we're at our best."
Canada pressed early and often with scoring opportunities, but it was Jamaica that opened the scoring to the delight of its supporters.
Spence fired a free kick over Canada's wall in the 33rd minute to capitalize on a Julia Grosso foul.
Lacasse knotted it up in the 39th minute. Leon sent in a corner kick that met Lacasse's head in stride and the home crowd erupted with joy.
Huitema gave Canada a 2-1 lead with a header in the 50th minute on a cross from Ashley Lawrence after entering the second half as a substitute.
Christine Sinclair, 40, started on the bench but entered the game for Leon in the 59th minute, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Two minutes later, Sinclair had fans on the edges of their seats as she almost scored but was stopped in close.
Jamaica, though, made a push with its own scoring opportunities. But with every missed chance — including a cross from Deneisha Blackwood to Cheyna Matthews that was defended well in the 73rd minute — the cheers only got louder from the Canadian faithful.
Although the Jamaican squad got more physical in the dying minutes of the game — both Blackwood and Spence were issued yellow cards in the 85th and 89th minutes — Canada kept its composure and held on to secure the win.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press