Canada have a lot of very good women's soccer players. Their semi-pro domestic league is a respectable level of play, almost all of their players go to play alongside future USWNT stars in the NCAA, and a number of their best players have spent time playing professionally in Scandinavia and the United States. They were tipped as possible dark horse semifinalists at the 2011 Women's World Cup because of all of this, and they finished dead last.
It's tough to pick out a Canadian player other than Christine Sinclair who didn't underachieve in that tournament. Canada redeemed themselves by qualifying comfortably for the Olympics, but in the final of the CONCACAF Qualifying tournament -- which Canadian fans will likely dismiss as an exhibition, due to the fact that the semifinals were the qualifying round -- Canada was poor again in a 4-0 loss to the United States.
Related: USA vs. France preview
They will almost certainly take all three points from South Africa in their second match of the Olympic tournament, which should be enough for them to squeak into the quarterfinals, but Sinclair, coach John Herdman and the rest of the team will have much higher aspirations than that. Sinclair is one of the best players in the world, and she might be able to drag the team to a medal by herself if the defense can hold themselves together.
Canada will have a chance to prove that they've made progress under Herdman instantly in their Olympic opener, when they take on reigning world champions Japan. Every single player who played in the 2011 World Cup final returns to the Japanese roster, and they're favorites for a medal.
The Canadians looked solid, but unspectacular in their 2-1 loss to the United States just prior to the tournament, but they struggled to win the ball back from the United States in midfield throughout the match. Japan's ball retention is even better than the USWNT, so Canada will need to stay organized and patient while looking for opportunities to pounce on the counter on the rare occasion that Japan loses the ball.
Sinclair and fellow attacker Melissa Tancredi will be tough for Japan to contain on the break, but they should create enough chances on the other end to make up for whatever they concede. Canada's defense and midfield hasn't proven that it's strong enough to contain a player of Homare Sawa's caliber, and her creative force is likely to be too much for a Canadian side that is improving, but not a finished product.
Pick: Japan 2-1 Canada
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, Noon ET, 5 p.m. local
Venue: City of Coventry Stadium, Coventry, England
TV: TSN (Canada)
Streaming: NBCOlympics.com (USA)
We'll have coverage of all of Wednesday's games in our 2012 Olympics, Women's Soccer Day 1 StoryStream.