Monday, July 09, 2007

Heartbreak in the rain

So, for a second time in as many months, Canada exits a tournament early. At the Gold Cup, this was due to a ridiculous offside call, but last night in the downpour in Edmonton, much of the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of a fine crop of young Canadian players. However, They were in a difficult position from the start, due to Gambia's upset of Portugal, and needed to win by three to advance. Credit should go to head coach Dale Mitchell for getting the players to play the more offensive style required, and for finally starting the combination of Tosaint Ricketts and Andrea Lombardo at the front.

Canada looked good early on, with Ricketts and David Edgar having chances inside the first ten minutes. Edgar, perhaps the one well-known star on this Canadian team for his work with Newcastle United, played well outside his normal role in the defence, and posed a serious threat from midfield for much of the match. Ricketts also impressed, much as he did in the game here in Kingston last month. He seems to be able to create chances off both the break and set plays, which should be a tremendous asset for Canada in years to come. However, unlike in Kingston, his final touch was never there Sunday night, and he was replaced going into the second half.

Congo converted one in the 26th minute, somewhat against the run of play. After that, however, it went downhill. The Canadians seemed overwhelmed by the mountain they had to climb, and did not create much until the half. After the break, though, they came out strong again for a while. Jaime Peters created some fine chances off the wing, but the finish was still not there. Lombardo also had some glorious opportunities, but did not have his usual touch. When Congo scored again in the 61st minute, it was obvious the Canadians had lost all hope of advancement.

The game continued to unravel for Canada in the 73rd minute, as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic picked up a deserved straight red for handling the ball well outside his box. As Canada had already made their three substitutions, midfielder Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault stepped into net. Looking rather undersized in the jersey and gloves of the 6'5 Begovic, Beaulieu-Bourgault put in a terrific performance in an unfamiliar role, making five saves over the remainder of the game. Canada contintued to press in an attempt to avoid being the first host nation to go goalless in this tournament, and had some glorious chances. Edgar headed one ball just wide, and Lombardo had several fantastic opportunities, including a free header in the dying minutes, but was still unable to convert.

Canada can take both positives and negatives from this tournament. On the bright side, they proved that there is a good quality of young talent coming up. Players such as Edgar, Peters, Begovic and Will Johnson should continue to develop with their European club sides, and will hopefully have an impact with the full national team in the days to come. Canada also demonstrated resilence: they appeared completely outclassed in the initial game against Chile, but had a legitimate shot to win both of the final two games if they had been able to convert some of the excellent chances they produced. This last game also proved that these players can produce an offensive, attacking style of play when required, something that has historically been a challenge for Canada.

However, on the negative side, Canada did not have to face any of the pre-tournament favorites, and still came up empty. Chile have been a surprise, and should give Portugal all they can handle on Thursday, but we really should have been able to do better against countries that are traditionally non-soccer powerhouses, such as Austria and Congo. Additionally, this performance will dampen some of the recent enthusiasm for soccer in Canada, and will prevent Mitchell from bringing much momentum to his new job as the manager of the full national side. Still, I believe Mitchell is the right man for the job. With him working together with assistant coach Stephen Hart, who led Canada to the Gold Cup semis, coaching should not be a problem for Canada.

Thumbs up, and down:

Time to take a page from Dave Hodge's book (he hosts The Reporters every Sunday morning on TSN, which always features a Thumbs up/Thumbs down segment). After each day of games, I'll try to present some lauds and criticisms for various teams and players.

Thumbs up to Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, who stepped into goal for Canada after Asmir Begovic was sent off. It is rare to see an outfield player in the net, and even more rare to see one perform as admirably as Beaulieu-Bourgault, who made five saves and did not allow Congo to score during his appearance between the post.

Thumbs up to David Edgar, who also did well in an unfamiliar role. Edgar, who is normally a defender for Canada and England's Newcastle United, stepped into the midfield against Congo in an attempt to provide some offense. He created some good chances for other players, was effective defensively, and almost scored a couple of goals himself with his head.

Thumbs down to Asmir Begovic. Begovic did not receive much help defensively in Canada's 3-0 drubbing at Chilean hands, and played well against Austria. However, he did not look good on the first goal yesterday night, and made a critical blunder late in the match when he was sent off for handling the ball well outside the area. Begovic made the right play coming out to clear the ball from the Congolese striker, but he should have either chested the ball down and booted it to safety, or waited for it to drop further and volleyed it first time. He's done well with Portsmouth in the English Premiership, and certainly looks to be a solid keeper for Canada in the future, but Sunday will not be remembered as one of his career highlights.

This Week's Coverage:

Tune in tomorrow for my previews and predictions in the Round of 16 games. Wednesday's post will focus on some of the star players still in the tournament, while Thursday and Friday's entries will review the previous night's matches.

No comments:

Post a Comment