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Canada advances to Copa America semi-finals after shootout win over Venezuela

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Canada held their nerve to beat Venezuela 4-3 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw through 90 minutes in Dallas Friday night, to advance to the Copa America semifinals to face Argentina Tuesday.

After an extremely entertaining end-to-end, action-packed football match, that had a little bit of everything, including some questionable officiating, midfielder Ismaël Kone stepped up to score the penalty kick that sends Canada through to face the world champions in New Jersey Wednesday. 

When asked what the difference was, Canada head coach Jesse Marsch pointed to pushing their opposition to the limit. 

“There were a lot of things we’ve been building; our fitness, belief, our playing style, and the aggression necessary to play the way we want to play,” said Marsch after the game. “I thought that we took Venezuela to the limit. (Venezuela is) a good and athletic team, but our team’s speed and athleticism, (help us to reach) our goal to try to push them to their limit and see if they can manage us.”

“So I think in the end, committing to the way we want to play, pushing ourselves physically and our ability to push the game physically is what’s making us successful right now. In the end, you saw how strong the team is and the unity that the group has is amazing.”

Marsch added that even though Canada probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves as a footballing nation, he still said Canada was the better team and deserved to win.”

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“Yeah, I mean, this is amazing, we’re in the semi-finals of the Copa America,” said Canada’s star goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau, who saved two crucial penalties. “I think everybody needs to realize the respect that this country deserves and that these talented, hardworking footballers deserve. Everybody says ‘oh these Canadians’… yeah, well, these Canadians are in the semifinals,” Crépeau added.

When asked about what the brotherhood created between all the Canadian players means to him, Ismael Koné, the man who scored the winning penalty, grinning ear-to-ear, said: “You see the smile on my face, that’s what it means… this brotherhood means everything to me. I wouldn’t change this relationship for nothing. I think that’s what makes us the team that we are today. We know we have a long way to go, but we want to show the world all that we can do.”

He added: “I’ve said it multiple times since I joined this team. It just been progress and learning and fun and new connections and just connecting with people that just are amazing, you know?” 

Strong Venezuelan support

Canada played in a familiar 4-2-3-1, and made only one change, starting Jonathan Osorio over Ismael Koné in the attacking midfield role.

The atmosphere at AT&T stadium was tense, the majority of the crowd was pulling for Venezuela and there was audible booing every time Canada touched the ball. Canada appeared nervy at the start of the match, making a handful of little mistakes and errant passes. 

Venezuela capitalized, creating a few dangerous scoring chances down both flanks. Canada goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau was tested early and made a huge early save on Jefferson Soteldo after a well-executed through ball.

It didn’t take long for Canada to get comfortable and build into the match. Venezuela played a very compact defense in a tight shape, which required Canada to execute short, accurate quick passes to move defenders around and create open spaces in the final third to create shot opportunities. 

Canada was particularly lethal on the counter with the speed of Jonathan David and both Richie Laryea and Jacob Shaffelburg on the flanks and the long, accurate passing abilities of both Osorio and Stephen Eustaquio. 

In the 12th minute, David sent Larin through on goal with a phenomenal long ball, but the Venezuelan keeper Rafael Romo came out to challenge and blocked the shot. Canada was unable to score on the rebound. 

Shaffelburg scores for Canada

Canada kept pressing and less than a minute later, they were rewarded. Quick thinking by Alistair Johnston to take a throw-in quickly got the ball to David, who dribbled down the right flank taking on multiple defenders. Jacob Shaffelburg made an intelligent run from the midfield onto the edge of the six-yard box, making himself open for David to cross it into him. Shaffelburg made no mistake, slotting the ball into the bottom right corner to give Canada its first knockout goal at the Copa America, its first goal against an 11-man opposition and most importantly an early 1-0 lead. 

After going 1-0 up, Canada has been the much better team, playing consistently on the front foot, inside Venezuela’s half. The Canadians kept the intensity high and immediately started looking for a second. Canada consistently utilized the counter-attack, catching the Venezuelan defenders –who were playing a high line– out of position. 

Canada created many scoring chances with the lead, but they narrowly missed two Grade-A scoring chances to double their advantage.

Alphonso Davies forced a turnover in his penalty area before making a run up the field. He calmly slotted it to Shaffelburg who found David with a long through-ball, but David could not hit the target after being off-balance from wrestling for positioning with the defender. Moments later, Cyle Larin, wide open in the six-yard box with an open net in front of him, missed a brilliant cross from David. Larin has to do better in those scenarios.

Canada did so well to consistently get behind Venezuela’s defense with their speed and flawless long passes, but once again, they struggled to finish their chances in a game they easily could’ve led 3-0. Their lack of finishing almost came back to bite them.

Centrebacks Moise Bombito and Derek Cornelius –who’ve both been excellent all tournament– were being pressed hard by Venezuela’s attackers and as a result, they made a few errant passes and turned the ball over a handful of times which led to a few Venezuela scoring chances. Overall though, once they settled in, Bombito and Cornelius were defensive rocks and played a fantastic game. Johnston was also phenomenal all game, pocketing Soteldo. Finally, Crépeau came up with numerous key saves to maintain Canada’s lead.

Canada Soccer, Copa America

David Shaffelburg celebrates scoring against Venezuela in their quarter-final Copa America match Friday. Photo: Canada Soccer

The closest Venezuela came to scoring was in the 20th minute when Crépeau misjudged the path of a cross coming into the box, luckily Johnston was there to head the ball out of harm’s way. 

After 30 minutes, Canada was the much better team. They created the much more dangerous chances, were handily winning the expected goals (xG) battle, and outshot their opponent 4-1 on target even though each team had six shot attempts. Venezuela only started pushing for a goal and playing on the front foot in the latter 15 minutes of the half.

The game was extremely physical, but at some points, the referee let too many things go unpenalized, missed some pretty blatant fouls and almost lost control of the match. Venezuela played a dirty game, yet Canada was charged with 13 fouls; Venezuela was only charged with four. Jesse Marsch had every right to be upset on the touchline.

Namely, both David and Shaffelburg were blatantly two-hand pushed from behind when through on goal on the counter, and the ref didn’t award a single yellow card. Canada didn’t even get a free kick for the push on Shaffelburg. However, the ref gave a free kick to Venezuela minutes later, for the softest-ever foul, which had Canadian fans and the TSN broadcast bewildered. 

Shaffelburg continues to shine in second half

At halftime, Venezuela led possession 55-45 percent and had 10 shot attempts to Canada’s seven. However, Canada was still the much better side. Canada fought for every loose ball, created numerous dangerous scoring chances, had four shots on target to Venezuela’s one, won several duels, pressed well, and created turnovers in the midfield. 

“All the things that I know about them now I sensed about them when I started, which is their commitment, their desire, their willingness to learn. All of that I think has led to bigger and bigger belief and self-confidence. And it was pretty evident in these last two games,” Marsch said regarding the development of the team in his month-long tenure.

“People will say we should score more goals, and we should, but those are two pretty strong performances (defensive and overall) against two great opponents in the last two games. We’re excited but not satisfied, there’s more to improve on, the goals will come soon,” Marsch added. 

None of the Venezuelan defenders could contain Shaffelburg, who scored his third goal in his 

14th Canada cap. He was incredible tonight, dominated the flank, was direct, dribbled at defenders head-on with pace, skill, and poise, and created scoring chances with his passing and shooting. His long run into the box to get on David’s cross to score the goal was sensational. He’s so consistent on offense and when even tracking back defensively. He showed his quality as a starter and may have earned a move to a big European club.

Johnston was very complimentary of Shaffelburg’s performance on both sides of the ball.

“Just the shift that he puts in every time, he is running his balls off every game and it makes such a difference for us,” Johnston said. “Even on that goal, it’s a nothing play off a quick throw-in and who’s running across the first post, our farside winger, that just sums up his tireless effort. He’s a special, special player and I’m just so happy for him.”

When asked about what he’s learned about this team, Johnston quickly said a lot.

“We came in over a month ago with a new manager and new system. No one knew what was going to happen. Everyone just thought you had a lot of really difficult games coming up. Let’s see what we can get out of it. But man, I get just so proud of this group and the effort they put in to improve themselves every day. What a special team and we’re going to the Copa America semi-finals against Argentina. If that doesn’t get you going, I don’t know what will.”

“The final four teams, there are going to be some pretty big footballing nations and Canada is going to be there… that’s really special,” Johnston continued.

“It’s been so much fun to get even closer with this group because I’ve been in and out so to spend a full month with these guys and create a better brotherhood with me in it, I mean, it’s been a lot of fun. So yeah, this is a great group of guys, I couldn’t be happier with them,” Shaffelburg said post-game.

Canada had four shots on target in the first half, all inside 30 minutes; they only had seven on target in all three group matches. 

The start of the second half was tense and physical, with each team creating quality scoring chances. Canada was a bit lackadaisical in its own penalty box in the 54th minute, failing to clear its lines, which resulted in some tense moments and a few high-percentage scoring chances for Venezuela. Canada, who has been organized and compact defensively for much of the tournament, almost made a costly mistake.

In the 64th minute, controversy ensued and the referee looked to be completely lost.

Canada won a throw-in deep in Venezuela’s half, off a transition attack. Romo was far out of his net, near the sideline to close down Laryea, and kicked the ball out of play. To prevent a fast restart and to give himself time to get back to his goal, he slapped the ball out of Laryea’s hand to stop the play, which is by the letter of the law, a yellow card. However, the ref didn’t give a yellow and halted play until Romo got back in his net.

Crépeau caught in no mans land, Venezuela scores

On the ensuing transition attack, a Venezuelan defender cleared the ball to the centre circle. Salomon Rondon collected it, outmuscled Bombito –the only centre-back defending, everyone else was so high up the pitch– and chipped it over the head of Crépeau who was miles off his line, near the centre circle when the ball was cleared. 

Obviously, the tactical decision to move everyone so high up the pitch, including the goalkeeper was a poor mistake. Could Bombito have done better defensively to strip the ball? Sure. However, credit to Rondon, it is not easy to score from 40 meters out which he did. The point remains that Venezuela’s goal should have never been allowed to happen because Canada should’ve gotten a free kick after Romo’s foul. 

In the post-game press conference, Marsch said he told his coaching staff that Venezuela’s goal was “on him” after it went in because he challenged Crépeau to play far out, way off his line, and to be physical to help his center backs.

At the end of the day, while the officiating should’ve been better, which would’ve prevented that goal from happening, Canada only had themselves to blame. Had they been more clinical and converted the many chances they created, they could’ve been up 3-0 at halftime and had the game sealed.

As soon as he came off, Larin, frustrated, told his coach “We should’ve been up 3-0,” according to Marsch.

Venezuela’s goal made for an extremely nervy final 25 minutes. Both teams had a plethora of chances and in the final 10-15 minutes, Venezuela pushed hard for a late winner, but Canada’s defense, particularly Johnston, was excellent and Crépeau made many saves to keep it 0-0.

Tani Oluwaseyi made an instant impact off the bench for Canada, creating three quality scoring chances with his speed, energy, and dribbling skills.

Straight to penalties

Penalty kicks were a roller-coaster of emotions.

Rondon shot first from Venezuela and scored. David matched it, 1-1. 

Venezuela missed their second penalty. Liam Millar couldn’t capitalize and give Canada the advantage.

Venezuela scored the third penalty. Bombito stepped up, calm as a cucumber, unbothered by the long delay caused by the lasers being shone in his face, and buried the penalty. 2-2.

Venezuela missed their fourth penalty. Eustaquio couldn’t give Canada the advantage, shooting right at Romo.

Jhonder Cadiz calmly buried the fifth penalty into the corner. Davies stepped up, needing to score to keep Canada alive. He picked his spot in the top right corner, and absolutely buried it. No chance for Romo. 3-3.

When asked to describe his walk to the penalty spot, Davies was confident and was seeking redemption after missing a penalty against Belgium in the 2022 World Cup.

“I knew where I wanted to go before I walked up to the spot. I had confidence in myself, my teammates had confidence in me, and I picked my spot and put it there. I’m happy it hit the back of the net,” Davies said. 

Venezuela missed their sixth penalty kick. 

Koné stepped up with the chance to win it. With all of Canada nervously watching, Koné confidently and calmly dispatched the penalty into the bottom left corner, sending Romo the wrong way to win the shootout 4-3 and send Canada into the semifinals against Argentina on July 9 at 8:00 p.m. EST. 

Overall, barring the mistake that led to the goal, the entire back four played a perfect game, especially Johnston and Davies –who completed 32/37 passes, won 5 of his 6 tackles, recorded two interceptions, had 13 recoveries, and won 8 of his 16 duels. Canada’s mentality under Marsch, the composure they showed on the penalties, and their defensive resilience, are all very promising. If Canada could put their finishing boots on, they could beat anyone. 

Finally, Maxime Crépeau is proving to be the standout goalkeeper at the Copa America and is a hero for Canada. He made four big saves (including stopping two penalties) and still leads the Copa America in saves with 16. 

“It’s going to take everything to prepare for Argentina,” Davies said. In the group game against them, we played well but didn’t convert our chances, he continued.

Looking directly into the camera, Davies gave a message to all of Canada ahead of arguably the team’s biggest game.

“I just want to say thank you all for your support. We’re out here, we’re working hard, we’re fighting for you guys and fighting for our country. And the next game is gonna be a battle, I hope you all are ready.”

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About Author

Adamo Marinelli is a multimedia freelance journalist who specializes in sports reporting. His writing, editing, and multimedia work has appeared in Total Soccer News, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Sun, The Hockey News, The Canadian Baseball Network, 49 Sports, Ottawa Sports Pages, Capital Current, 613 Sports, and The Charlatan.

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