On a rainy evening in Nice, France the Canadian Women's National Team reminded fans just how far they still have to go if they want to win the World Cup in 2015. The growing pains that come from trying to learn a whole new style of play were evident on the poor pitch and it meant a glaring gap in quality between the two sides.
France adjusted to the conditions quickly in the first half and found a way to play their natural game making use of controlled passing and good movement off the ball. Bruno Bini's side quickly got into the flow of things and spent most of the 90 minutes on the front foot pressing Canada and just looking for the final ball to unlock things.
Canada on the other end of things was struggling with the conditions and slipping all over the place. When they did manage to keep their footing they ended up turning the ball over with far too much regularity. It was clear to anyone watching that the short passing and possession game that John Herdman is trying to implement still has quite a long way to go before paying off.
The coach made it clear that his squad would likely take a couple steps back in the short term so that they would be better in the long term. The steps back are the result of integrating new players into the squad and trying to adopt a far more technical style of play than the dump-and-chase physical game that Canada has relied on for so long.
The style that Herdman wants to bring in is one that France has been playing for years now and it is already paying off for the French side as they once again showed why they are one of the top women's sides in the World despite lacking that little bit of quality in the final third to put all of their chances away.
Much like the Olympic bronze medal match the game was controlled by France for the most part and the hosts were unlucky not to score a couple of goals in the first half as they completely controlled the match. The first real good chance came from Louisa Necib who's effort from 20 yards out beat Erin McLeod but came back out off the crossbar much to the relief of the Canadian defenders who did a poor job of closing down.
McLeod was busy in the match often having to come out and close down French attacks. She showed good reactions on a number of occasions to beat the French attackers to the ball and spare her defenders blushes. Her best moment came late in the first half when he rushed out to close down a 2-on-1 pinching the ball off the feet of Thomis before the attacker could go around her.
France's first half dominance would pay off in stoppage time when Thomis turned Jonelle Filigno and opened up just enough space for herself before taking a shot that found its way into the top corner. It was the final action of the first half and it was quite an impressive strike as it left McLeod with little hope of doing anything to prevent the goal.
The second half was more of the same as despite Herdman making a number of changes Bini left his side relatively unchanged and they continued to control the match. They came close on a couple of occasions but continued to fail to capitalize on the majority of their chances.
Canada got their first quality chance of the match in the 70th minute when they earned a dangerous freekick. Matheson, who earned her 149th cap, took the kick and played it towards the front post where it was met by Kaylyn Kyle with a strong header. Kyle got the header down with a fair bit of power but the French keeper was equal to the task turning the chance away before watching Desiree Scott's followup go wide.
The set piece continued to be Canada's best weapon as their second good chance came off a Matheson corner which was again headed towards goal by Kyle and would have found the back of the net if not for Necib being in position to clear it off the line after her keeper had been beaten.
Kyle completed her trio of chances a few minutes later as French defender Renard slipped in the box and presented her with a look on goal but from a bit of a tight angle all she was able to find was the side netting without really worrying the French keeper.
Canada was finally getting into the match when France broke down field the other way and capitalized on some poor work by Buchanan on the ball but when the cross was played into the box a wide open Le Sommer was unable to get anything on the ball. Her attempt to head the ball ended up just skidding off her forehead and never heading towards the goal which was a huge let off considering the amount of space she was in just on the edge of the McLeod's area.
In the 87th minute McLeod came up big to keep Canada down just one and still in the match as she got her hands to a well struck effort from Tonazzi that seemed to be heading towards the top corner of her goal.
Then in the dying minutes it was a bit of heartbreak for France as Kaylyn Kyle made her fourth chance of the match count and collected the ball from Sinclair and placed it into the corner of the goal. By the time France kicked off following the goal the ref was blowing the whistle to end the match. It was another snatch and grab result for Canada.
Herdman made use of plenty of his substitutions in the second half meaning that the majority of the 19 players that he brought with him for the camp got involved in the match as the head coach continues to evaluate his player pool. The performance was not one that he will be able to take all that much from other than the fact that there is a long way to go in implementing the more technical style of play.
The one bright spot for Canada will be that they managed to hang around in this game for the entire 90 minutes and in the last half hour managed to create a few chances to steal the result which was good to see. With France dominating the play for much of the match it would have been easy for Canada to collapse like they did against this same side at the 2011 World Cup but instead they looked more like the team that beat France at the Olympics and battled for the entire match. That hard work was rewarded in the final minutes of play but should not cover up the fact that Canada was clearly second best but can take pride in their never say die attitude.