Stung: Canada opens ‘Tournoi de France’ with narrow loss to hosts France via Asseyi set-piece stunner

Canada kicked off their ‘Tournoi de France’ this week, taking on the hosts in the opening match. Despite defending well over the course of 90 minutes, they conceded a stunning second-half free kick, and that would be all France needed to make a difference, allowing them to grab a 1-0 victory over the Canadians.

When the margins are so tight, just one moment can completely shift the balance. 

For Canada, that moment came off of an innocent-looking free-kick at the top of the box, which France’s Viviane Asseyi stepped up and claimed confidently, before curling it into the top corner. 

It was just one moment, one piece of magic, but with it, 90 minutes of defensive hard work was undone, allowing France to grab a 1-0 victory, opening up their ‘Tournoi de France’ off on the right foot. 

For Canada, it was a tough bounce, as they did well to mostly limit France’s chances over the course of the match, but in football, that one moment of magic is all that’s needed to shift the balance. 

Luckily for them, the result counts for nothing, which will allow them to focus more on their encouraging moments of play, but it’s a loss that still stung nonetheless, which should fire them up ahead of their next two games. 

The match started off slowly, with France controlling the play, while Canada stood back, absorbing most of the early pressure from their opponents. In front of some decent French support, they were unafraid of rolling their sleeves up and defending, absorbing wave-after-wave of blue pressure. 

Despite not seeing much of the ball in the first 20 minutes, Canada’s defenders made life easy for Kailen Sheriden in her goal, keeping France mostly to the outside early on. France did have some good chances from the outside, with Asseyi coming close on a left-footed volley that just sailed over in the 4th minute, before Amel Majri just shanked a volley wide in the 20th, giving Canada a slight scare. 

And while all that work was certainly starting to wear on Canada’s defenders and goalkeeper, that relentless defensive effort would prove to pay dividends further up the pitch, with Canada unlocking more confidence as the half went along. They had one of the best chances of the game in the 33rd minute, with Canada stringing together a very nice multiple-pass move through the middle, before freeing up Jayde Riviere on the right, with the full back whipping in an excellent near post ball. 

It would amount to nothing, however, with Christine Sinclair just nodding her header over the bar, but it was a good sign of intent from Canada. Despite holding on for most of the half, they grew into the game, showing lashes of what they can do when at their best. 

But while their offensive game woke up, they still had to defend, as all of their hard work would almost get undone ahead of the half time whistle. With France having a late set-piece, they freed up striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto at the back post, and the talented #9 headed a powerful effort towards goal, but Sheridan stood strong to keep the game deadlocked at the half. 

Shortly after the stop, the referee would blow for half time, giving Canada a much-needed break. They had defended hard, keeping France at bay, with the break giving them a much-needed 15 minutes to both recuperate and regroup before looking to jump back into the thick of things. 

They maybe weren’t where they would have liked to been at offensively, but they had shown glimpses, with their defensive work paving the way for them to push forward offensively more as the half wore on. It wasn’t going to be an easy finish, as defending can really wear down on a team, but if they could find that first goal, they’d certainly made it feel like they were unlikely to concede any time soon. 

Canada would continue that strong defensive form in that second half, with France continuing to knock at the door, but failing to really test Sheridan in goal. 

But with Canada seeming to sit even further back than they did in the first half, it invited France to ramp up the pressure, which would prove to be costly. After a cynical foul from Desiree Scott gifted France a free-kick at the top of the box, with the Canadian forced to foul after an earlier giveaway, Asseyi stepped up and made magic happen, curling one into the top-left corner to open the scoring in the 55th minute.

Revitalized by their opening goal, France continued to knock up the heat, putting the Canadian backline under veritable stress. They nearly doubled their lead less than 10 minutes later, as they managed to free up Kadidiatou Diani in behind the Canadian defence after a nice sequence of play, but the French international poked her chance just wide, much to the relief of the defenders. 

And from there, that would be pretty much all the game had to offer, with both teams unable to offer up more than a couple of half-chances, allowing the goalkeepers some rest to end off the game. 

It was a great result for France, who looked good despite having a younger squad, but for Canada, it was a tad disappointing, especially considering their valiant defensive effort. With a mostly veteran squad, it was hoped they could have carried the game a little more, but as we explored before the tournament, when Canada goes with a more experienced squad, they lose a little versatility, which showed at times tonight. 

On the positive side, it did show that Canada can hang with the best, as they did last month against the US, at least on the defensive end. The offensive end was a bit lacking, no doubt, but hopefully that will come both with the insertion of more youth, with Canada having some interesting youngsters that can make a difference going forward if handed bigger roles. 

In the Mixer:

  • Curious to see if Canada goes younger in their next game. Kenneth Heiner-Moller went veteran-heavy in this one, putting Sophie Schmidt, Allysha Chapman and Desiree Scott all together, which against a team like France, can be dangerous, with their lack of speed at times hemming Canada back. Individually, Scott was quite effective, bar her turnover leading to the 1st goal, while Schmidt was good once again at the back, with Chapman rounding off the trio with a solid performance. Collectively, there are questions to be asked, however, with Canada clearly needing more speed and athleticism in the middle of the park and out at full back to keep up with teams like France over the course of 90 minutes. 
  • Defensively, it’s been nice to see Canada’s growth at that end of the pitch, especially after looking poor at times to end off last year. They defend well as a unit, they don’t give away many chances, and overall just look a lot better together than they did before. If Canada can find a way to provide them more support in the midfield, it gives them a good chance of making some noise at the Olympics, as their defensive work does keep them in a good chunk of games, even if they sometimes have no business doing so. 
  • In goal, Sheridan was quite solid for Canada, as she filled in for Stephanie Labbe. She made some good saves, and was mostly a stable presence back there for Canada, helping her defenders out when she could. The goal she conceded was a bit rough, as it’s always tough to concede off of a set-piece, but the quality of the strike made it a difficult one to stop, so it’s hard to fault her on that. It doesn’t seem like she’ll snatch the regular job, yet, but she’s still young, so it’s good to know that Canada has some options if Labbe were for some reason unable to play.
  • It would be nice to see if Jordyn Huitema and Christine Sinclair could get some more support up front, as they were isolated for a good chunk of the game. Considering that they are two of the best strikers in the world, it seems wasteful to have them running around without getting the ball, so hopefully we can see them get some more chances in future games, because as we know, when they do get the ball, they finish quite handily. 

Looking Forward

Up next for Canada in France will be the Netherlands, current defending European champions and World Cup runners up. Canada knows them well, having played them in a tight-fought contest at last year’s World Cup, with the Netherlands narrowly edging the Canadians. 

With revenge on their minds, along with the prospect of improving some of the holes in their game, expect Canada to come out strongly for that one, as they look to show a little more fight going forward than they did in this matchup. Defensively, the work was exceptional, but you need more than just that to win, especially against top opposition, so it’d be nice to see some growth in other areas of their game. 

It’ll be interesting to see if they throw some younger faces in, with their only being 3 days between games, giving Heiner-Moller a chance to evaluate some different names. Ahead of the Olympics, which promises to be an interesting spectacle, there are a lot of questions for both he and his staff to answer, both in terms of tactics and lineup selection. 

Because as seen despite this loss, there’s a base there, the key now is just to build up and around it, so that come Olympics time, they’re ready to make some noise. 

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/MexSport

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