Canada rounded off their ‘Tournoi de France’ with clashes against the Netherlands and Brazil this past week, drawing 0-0 and 2-0, respectively. Here is how both games went down, and what we took away from this tournament, as Canada’s Olympic preparations continue on in full force.
In a tournament filled with some of the best, they at least held their own.
Canada may have wrapped up their ‘Tournoi de France’ without any wins, but they still showed well against France, the Netherlands and Brazil in the friendly tournament, finishing with 2 draws and 1 loss.
In a competition that they are using mostly as preparation for the Olympics later this year, it was a good chance to test out some new players and formations, with results being of secondary importance.
Against 3 fellow top 10 teams in the world, it allowed Canada to play some high-quality football in a tough environment, something that they haven’t had much of a chance to consistently do since they found themselves eliminated from the World Cup a year ago.
And while they fell to France 1-0 to kick off the tournament, they rounded off their trip to France with 2 draws, doing well to hold the Netherlands and Brazil in their respective clashes.
Here is how they finished off their time in France, and what we took away from those last 2 matches, as Canada continues their busy 2020 slate of games.
Canada takes on the Netherlands
Against the Netherlands, things started out slowly for both sides, with defensive play looking to be a big priority early on in the game. Because of that, the first real chance of the game came via individual skill, instead of teamwork, as Dutch midfielder Inessa Kaagman did well to turn onto her left foot after a 13th minute Jessie Fleming turnover, setting up a powerful strike, one that would emphatically hit the crossbar and fly out of play.
At the other end, Canada mustered up their first chance of the game around 10 minutes later, after Adriana Leon did well to open up space for a nice cross into the box, with her intended target, Deanne Rose, sailing her header just wide. Less than 5 minutes later, the Dutch countered with another chance of their own, as Kaagman and Jackie Groenen combined for a couple of passes at the top of the box, opening up space for a Groenen strike, but it was way too tame to worry Sabrina D’Angelo in the Canadian goal.
But besides those chances, it was overall a pretty quiet first half for both sides, with the defensive nature of the game reflecting itself in the scoreline. Neither team wanted to cede the control they had established in the match, which meant that chances were going to have to come via individual mistakes, not team skill, much as Kaagman’s effort after Fleming’s turnover.
That would prove to be predictive of the second half, with a huge individual error opening things up in the 49th minute. Lize Kop, the Dutch goalkeeper, came flying out of her goal to stop Canada’s Nichelle Prince, who had done well to sneak behind the defenders. Sensing the oncoming goalkeeper, she protected the ball from the challenge, forcing Kop to instead clatter into her, which led to the referee brandishing a deserved a red card.
While Canada would fail to capitalize on the ensuing set-piece, with Jordyn Huitema striking the ball harmlessly into the wall, the sending off really opened up the field for Canada, who aimed to take advantage of the extra player wherever possible.
And that advantage would start to be reflected in the changing nature of the game, with Canada controlling more and more of the possession, which in turn led to better chances. They started to inch closer towards a possible goal, with Jessie Fleming only finding herself denied by the post in the 69th minute, after doing well to round Loes Guerts in the Dutch goal, before Prince came close a few minutes later, with her shot finding the safe hands of Guerts after a nice sequence of dribbles from the winger.
Canada would continue to press, racking up the chances, but unluckily for them, Guerts stood tall in goal. The Dutch goalkeeper would make a huge stop on Ashley Lawrence in the 78th minute, before blocking a solid Fleming attempt in the 85th, as she did everything possible to maintain the clean sheet.
Guerts would get a huge boost at the end, however, as she could only stand haplessly in the goal as Vanessa Giles and Jordyn Huitema played a lovely 1-2, setting up Giles for an unmarked strike from around the penalty spot, with no player in front of her.
But despite having what felt like an acre of space to look into, giving her all of the time in the world to hit the target, she sent the ball well over, sending with it any chance of Canada winning the game.
It was a good draw for Canada, who had done well to control the game against the World Cup finalists, they just lacked the clinical finishing, something that is usually the furthest from their issues.
More importantly, they had gotten some good minutes from their younger players, with many of them getting good second half cameos, which ahead of the Olympics, where Canada can only bring 18 players, gave them a solid chance to audition for those last spots in the squad.
Canada takes on Brazil
For all the good work done vs the Netherlands, however, it quickly felt like a distant memory after their start to the Brazil game. After putting in an excellent defensive shift against both the French and the Dutch, they lacked that same sharpness defensively against the Brazilians, and it cost them early.
Kicking things off was 6-time world player of the year, Marta, who showed that despite her advancing age, you cannot take your eyes off her at any moment defensively.
Canada did just that, falling asleep on what looked like a harmless Brazil throw-in, which soon turned into a Marta half-breakaway after a few quick passes, giving Brazil’s #10 the time and space that she needed to find the side-netting behind Stephanie Labbe, opening the score for Brazil.
Soon after, things would go from bad to worse for the Canadians, who suffered a similar breakdown in the 18th minute, this time resulting in a Ludmila tap in. After Stephanie Labbe failed to claim what seemed like a routine ground cross, the dangerous Ludmila was there to clean up the damage, doubling Brazil’s lead with her finish.
Brazil’s early dominance continued throughout the rest of the first half, as they seemed unperturbed by Canada’s impressive possession numbers, overall creating the better chances. As a result, Ludmila nearly doubled her tally in the 30th minute, with the striker doing well to meet a cross in the Canadian box, but her header was too comfortable for Labbe, who appeared to have brushed off her earlier error quite seamlessly.
Heading into half time, it was quite the hill for Canada to have to climb, as they just didn’t seem to have the juice offensively to keep up, making the 2 goal gap seem impossible to overcome. Besides the two goals, they had defended decently, but those mistakes loomed large, especially considering that they had mostly avoided them in recent games.
With offensive difference-makers such as Marta and Ludmila on the pitch, it can amplify a team’s mistakes, and that showed in the first half.
It nearly showed early on in the 2nd, as well, with Marta doing well to find some space at the top of the box in the 50th minute, but she sent her shot just wide on that left-footed strike, much to the relief of the Canadians. Up the other end of the pitch, second-half substitute Allysha Chapman nearly halved the deficit, as she found herself unmarked in the box, with her header only just narrowly missing the target.
Soon after, Canada would find their best chances of the game, at least up until that point, with Nichelle Prince missing two glorious chances to open the scoring. First, she failed to get a shot on target on a breakaway attempt, after a nice Christine Sinclair through ball set her free, before she got a chance to redeem her self less than a minute later, but she poked a low cross just wide, despite being in what seemed like a pretty wide-open position in the box.
Prince would make up for it not long after, however, as she continued to put in a shift up front. This time, her moment of magic would come as a provider, not a finisher, as she did well to get in behind the Brazilian defenders in the 73rd minute, before slotting a clean ball across goal, one that found Diana Matheson for an easy tap-in finish, halving Brazil’s lead.
That goal would start to shift the tides of the game, with Brazil looking a shell of the team they were in the first half, and they only compounded their misery in the 75th minute. With Sophie Schmidt all alone behind the Brazilian defence, it forced Jucinara to lunge in recklessly, as she chopped down the Canadian, nullifying the attack but earning a red card in the process.
Even though Canada missed the subsequent free-kick, with Sinclair slapping the ball into the wall, much like in the Netherlands game, the red card shifted the momentum into Canada’s favour, as they pressed for an equalizer.
And in the 87th minute, they would get rewarded for their offensive work, as Matheson continued her strong half, with the midfielder doing excellent work to find Janine Beckie in for a breakaway. With only goalkeeper Aline Villares Reis to beat, she made no mistake with her finish, slotting home to tie things up for Canada.
That would then be all the rest of the game had to offer, with Canada unable to find that last chance, the one that would give them the winning shot. It wasn’t the worse draw, however, especially considering the comeback, which seemed impossible to imagine at half time.
What did we learn?
Overall, it was a positive end to the tournament, at least results-wise, with there being plenty to take away from how they actually got those draws.
Against the Dutch, they showed off their defensive resilience, along with improved chance creation, especially after the red card. While they weren’t consistently controlling play offensively, when they got a ball into a good area of the pitch, they found a way to turn it into shots, which is something they have struggled with in the past.
In the match with Brazil, they looked a lot sloppier defensively, which led to the 2 goals against, but once the second half came around, they looked like a new team. They stopped bleeding chances, while also finding a lot more of their own, which eventually led to the final result.
Overall, the big thing they’ll need to work on heading into the Olympics is consistency, with that lack of balance from half-to-half costing them at times. Against some teams, they won’t punish you on those mistakes, but if you fall asleep against top teams, they will, as Brazil showed in this latest clash.
If Canada wants to compete with the best, as they often state they want to, they’ll need to be able to hang with them for the full 90 minutes, not parts, because if not, those teams aren’t scared of taking over a game.
Personel wise, it leaves a lot of interesting questions to be answered, especially as Canada gets set to trim their squad to 18 ahead of the Olympics. There are still some friendlies to be played ahead of then, so they’re not rushed in their decisions, but as we’ve seen so far in 2020, there’s been a lot of mixed performances, ones that will make it extra hard to make those final choices.
As we highlighted before the tournament, this is an older Canadian squad, but also one that has a big chunk of their squad sitting either over the age of 30 or under the age of 25, as they embark on an interesting transition period.
Those under 25s can play, as the likes of Jordyn Huitema, Julia Grosso, Gabrielle Carle and Jayde Riviere have recently shown, but it’s clear that Kenneth Heiner-Moller doesn’t trust all of them, especially not together, which has kept a lot of veterans in the mix.
That isn’t to say the veteran alternatives are bad options, either, with Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, Allysha Chapman and Sophie Schmidt still putting in good shifts, but together they don’t seem to work as well together as they used to, with their declining speed and physical limitations often forcing Canada to chase the game.
Obviously, in a tournament like the Olympics we’re going to see a lot more veterans, but that doesn’t mean the kids should be completely cut out of the picture, as they give Canada so much more all over the pitch. At the very least, we should see more youth in the squad to support those veterans, giving Canada a more balanced cache of experience, athleticism and youth, instead of what we saw in each of their recent lineups, where there always seemed to be a surplus in one area compared to the other.
Long-term, the kids need to take over this squad, but with the Olympics looming, there’s nothing wrong with giving the veterans that one last big shot, before turning over to the younger generation. That’s not to say the kids should be cut out of the Olympic picture, either, but it also doesn’t mean that the veterans should be cut off long-term, as well, with the optimal plan being a continued transition, with the older faces continuing to mentor, albeit in less significant on the pitch roles.
But that’s a long-term worry. In the short-term, it’s clear that the issue is consistency and balance, with there always seeming to be some issue keeping the team back. When their offensive game improves, it seems to nullify their defensive one, and vice-versa, with that lack of balance, usually stemming from the midfield, playing a big role.
So maybe the solution will be to play the youngsters in the middle, giving them more of a presence, but either way, that’s been the issue for the last little while, and it looks to be an issue going forward.
It hasn’t completely hampered them, as their overall solid performances over this tournament have shown, but if they want to compete, not just hang, with the best, that balance (in the midfield and elsewhere) will need to come sooner rather than later, especially ahead of the Olympics, where Canada looks to return to the podium for the 3rd time.
Canada now has just over one month until they play their next game, which comes against Australia in Vancouver, allowing their players to return to their various club outfits around the world for the time being.
After this tournament, they have a lot to work on, but overall they fared quite well against some solid opposition, which after how they ended 2019, was positive to see. It’s easy to forget that they closed last year with a pair of 4-0 friendly losses to Brazil and Japan, so to see them hang with the likes of other top sides such as France and the Netherlands, along with that same Brazil side, is good, especially with the Olympics looming.
It’s a complicated period of transition for the women’s program, no doubt, but with it being a busy calendar year, they’ll just have to work through it, as they have done so far.
Will we see more youth going forward? Can Canada find a way to balance their squad? Do they have enough in their squad to do some damage at the Olympics? We’ll continue to find those answers to those questions, and more, as they push through their busy 2020 slate of games.
At the very least, there’ll be no shortage of storylines, which we’ll be sure to keep a close eye on.
Cover Photo by: Canada Soccer/MexSport