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Terrific team performance sees Canada hold France to a hard-fought draw – in-depth report

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What an incredible result.

72 hours after conceding four second-half goals against the Netherlands, the Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team held World Cup finalists France, the 2nd best team in the world according to FIFA’s latest rankings, to a scoreless draw in Bordeaux Sunday.

And it’s possibly Canada’s best result since beating the United States and Mexico en route to qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Canada learns from Dutch defeat

Canada drastically changed their game plan from their last match, moving away from a very aggressive press and high line and instead opting to play a more patient game plan where they tried to minimize the danger of a very explosive French attack. 

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“We tried to take a few things from the Dutch game and make some adjustments,” said Canada coach Jesse Marsch post-match. “And then really encourage certain behaviours and understanding of how the players could perform a clearer and better inside the tactics. From the beginning, I could see (the players) understood and were applying the game plan. Then when they felt the power of the unity, they got even stronger in the match.”

“In all phases of the match, I thought we were solid. Overall, a pretty strong performance and a big step forward for us.”

Marsch explained how he changed his tactics and formations to be better suited to adapt to and deal with how the French played compared to how the Dutch played.

“The two opponents are different,” Marsch said. “The Dutch tried to create that with their man-marking, so it means that there are no pauses in the game and possession like there were tonight. I could see that about midway through the first half, we were fatigued; I had some concerns about making it to half, and I challenged them at the half to not be satisfied with that performance, to stay focused, and to push themselves as far as they could physically.”

Canada made only one change to the starting eleven from the Netherlands game, giving Maxime Crépeau the start in goal over Dayne St. Clair. All 10 outfield players remained the same.

Canada, France, Millar

Canada’s Liam Millar in action against France Sunday, June 9, 2024. Photo courtesy Canada Soccer

France head coach Didier Deschamps made three changes from a midweek victory over Luxembourg and fielded a very strong team. It is arguably their strongest starting 11 just without Kylian Mbappe who was dropped to the bench for Olivier Giroud who started his last game for his country on home soil.

Unlike the game against the Dutch where Canada ran out of steam in the second half, Canada was excellent defensively against France – composed, and well-organized for the entire 90 minutes.

Deschamps impressed by Canada

And Deschamps was complimentary of Canada’s game plan and play style.

“We were up against some good opposition (who played) with a lot of intensity, and we had a few good chances in the first half,” said France’s coach post-game. “After that, it was more difficult. It wasn’t easy today, and we’re going to make the most of it in terms of what awaits us on June 17.”

Canada goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was sensational all night and perhaps deserves to be the starting goalkeeper at the Copa America. He made four massive saves including two inside the first 10 minutes to deny N’Golo Kante and Marcus Thuram and a critical save late into second-half stoppage time against Kylian Mbappe to preserve the 0-0 draw. Crepeau’s distribution was excellent and he wasn’t afraid to come off his line to block crosses into the box and challenge the French forwards.

Other notable performances included midfielder Ismael Koné, Stephen Eustaquio, Moise Bombito, Liam Millar, Alistair Johnston, Alphonso Davies, and Jonathan David who all played spectacular games. Another positive is the continued development of the center-back pairing between Bombito and Derek Cornelius who defended against Giroud and Mbappe well all game. They should be the two starting center-backs against Argentina.

Koné was especially fantastic in the midfield both offensively – winning duels, maintaining possession, and creating chances with forward passes– and defensively – tackling and pressing well and creating turnovers – against one of the best midfield trios in world football consisting of Antoine Griezmann, Kanté, and Eduardo Camavinga. Koné won eight out of 13 ground duels, had 93 percent passing accuracy, and won five fouls to set up dead-ball opportunities.

Either Koné or Crépeau deserved Man of the Match honours and Koné may have just earned a well-deserved transfer to a European club in a top-5 league. 

Canada and France split possession

France outshot Canada 13-7 (4-0) on target, however, Canada did not sit back and defend for the entire 90 minutes, as seen by the final possession which was 51-49 percent in France’s favour.

Canada played on the front foot for large portions of the match and attacked well, especially in transition, using their speed and stellar passing to create numerous quality scoring chances. In fact, Canada led possession 55-45 percent at the end of the first half dispute being outshot. Canada showed its ability to hold onto the ball, maintain possession, and complete short, quick passes (they completed 92 percent of their passes in the first half) to play out from the back while also testing the French defense a handful of times in transition. 

Canada learned from the second half against the Dutch and came out of the locker room full of energy and played with high intensity on both sides of the ball to start the second half.

Canada’s biggest scoring chances came in the 47th minute when Millar ran up the pitch toward the corner of the 18-yard box in transition before smashing a powerful shot from distance which beat France goalkeeper Mike Maignan but not the crossbar. In the 79th minute, Canada nearly scored to take the lead when David dribbled past a defender before crossing it toward Osorio who was wide open in the six-yard box and had an open goal to tap it into. However, Arsenal center-back Wiliam Saliba intercepted the cross and cleared the ball from danger, preventing Canada from going 1-0 up.

“Not just the moment with Liam (Millar) but in the second half, there were three or four moments where if we could be just a bit better with the last pass, we could score an easy goal,” said Marsch, whose biggest emphasis heading into the Argentina match is to be more clinical in the final third. 

“We’ve had two matches and we’ve taken a big step forward, but we still don’t have any goals yet,” Marsch continued. “So we still have to find a way against the best opponents to be dangerous, and be clear in the last third and find ways to score.”

Canada not clinical

Canada’s forwards, particularly David and Cyle Larin, were not nearly as clinical in front of goal as they need to be in important tournament games. David created many quality scoring chances but couldn’t find the net. Larin was almost invisible and Marsch may consider staring Ike Ugbo in his place against Argentina.

On some occasions, particularly early on, some hesitancy, a handful of rushed decisions, and disorganization caused by the players’ anxiety caused Canada to turn the ball over to France and miss out on creating a few scoring chances. 

But as the game progressed, Canada became more comfortable and more fluid on and off the ball and didn’t deviate much from their game plan. Canada’s defense was tested by France who upped the ante in the second half, creating many quality chances, but Crepeau and Canada’s defenders stayed strong. Even when Mbappe came on for the final 20 minutes and France tried to beat Canada down the middle with accurate long balls that Mbappe ran onto using his top-tier acceleration and pace, Bombito was up to the task, defending the French superstar quite well.

In stoppage time, Randal Kolo-Muani missed a wide-open goal with a header that would’ve given France a lead in the 92nd minute. A few minutes later, despite being pushed to the outside by Bombito, Mbappe still got a powerful shot off which was saved by Crepeau in the 95’. 

Canada confident heading to Copa America

This is a result that will get many people excited and will surely give the Canadian men plenty of confidence heading into their game against World Cup champions Argentina to kick off the Copa America on June 20 in Atlanta. 

Canada is not perfect and there is still plenty of room for improvement and much work to do before the match against Argentina. However, the performance against France shows how high of a level this Canadian team can reach.

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