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Canada men set for another tough challenge in second-ranked France in soccer friendly

Canada midfielder Stephen Eustaquio (7) runs with the ball during the second half of a CONCACAF Nations League Play-In soccer match between Trinidad And Tobago and Canada, Saturday, March 23, 2024, in Frisco, Texas. Canada won 2-0. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Julio Cortez

The leaning curve for Canada under new coach Jesse Marsch continues Sunday, with another potentially hard lesson waiting in the form of second-ranked France.

The Marsch era started Thursday with the 49th-ranked Canadian men blanked 4-0 by the seventh-ranked Netherlands in Rotterdam.

It won't be any easier at the Stade Matmut Atlantique in Bordeaux. The French have lost just two of their last 13 outings (10-2-2) — both defeats at the hands of Germany -- since losing a penalty shootout to Argentina in the 2022 World Cup final.

"What an opportunity," Marsch said Saturday. "What a challenge but what a great opportunity. And I expect our players to be up for it."

"I'm confident that as difficult as the game will be (Sunday) that we'll be able to handle it in a really good way," added the 50-year-old American, who was named Canada coach on May 13.

The French are coming off a 3-0 win Wednesday over No. 87 Luxembourg with Kylian Mbappe, who just joined Real Madrid from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, setting up the first two goals and scoring the third.

Marsch, who is rotating the captain's armband to start, confirmed that midfielder Stephen Eustaquio will lead the team out Sunday. Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies captained the side against the Dutch.

Eustaquio, who plays club football for Portugal's FC Porto, says such tough foes are welcome.

"I think we are a very young team but we are very very motivated," he said. "We have a lot of hunger. This is an amazing opportunity to play a top, top team. We were wishing for games like this in the past couple of years.

"It was a great lesson learned against the Dutch," he added. "Although we lost 4-0, it was very good for us to play at that level. Now France, a very demanding team as well. It's going to be nice to play against these top players, players that have won the Champions League as well. It's going to be a big mission but I think we're capable of surprising."

The Canadians started well in Rotterdam, limiting the Dutch with an efficient press. The quality of the Dutch began to take its toll, however.

Under pressure as the half ended, Canada managed to make it to the break without conceding. The breakthrough came in the 50th minute with more Dutch goals coming in the 57th, 63rd and 83rd minute.

While the French represent another difficult hurdle in the short-term, Marsch said he has made it clear to his players that his focus is "completely and entirely on using every moment we have together to better prepare ourselves for what (the World Cup in) 2026 is going to be.

"And that will be no different for this match or any match that we ever play."

Asked how far he and his new team have to go to get to where he wants to be, Marsch replied: "Really far."

"We all know there's a long way to go," he added. "And what I said to the team was if our goal in 2026 is to get to 100 and right now we're at 50, we've got to take steps every day to get closer to that. And we have to make sure even against these big opponents, where the game can feel overwhelming at times and be very challenging, that we're still establishing the foundation and the basis for what we want to become moving forward."

Marsch said fullback/wingback Richie Laryea, who has seen just 11 minutes of action since injuring his hamstring in Toronto FC's season opener Feb. 25, is available and will likely see some minutes Sunday. Defender Alistair Johnston will undergo a fitness test to confirm he has recovered from a knock from the Dutch game.

Canada is preparing for Copa America, where it is one of six CONCACAF guest teams at the South American championship that runs June 20 to July 14 in the U.S. The Canadians open against top-ranked Argentina before facing No. 32 Peru and No. 42 Chile in Group A play.

France, like the Netherlands, is gearing up for Euro 24, which kicks off June 14 in Germany.

The June contests represent Canada's highest-ranked opponents since the 2022 World Cup when the Canadian men lost 1-0 to then-second-ranked Belgium.

Canada is 6-4-3 since the soccer showcase in Qatar with one of those ties turning into a penalty shootout loss to the U.S. at the Gold Cup quarterfinal.

Canada, meanwhile, represents the last test for Didier Deschamps' squad ahead of its Euro Group D opener against No. 25 Austria on June 17.

The Canadian men have faced France just once before, in their first-ever game at the FIFA World Cup in 1986 in Mexico. A star-studded French side needed a 79th-minute goal by Jean-Pierre Papin to win 1-0.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2024

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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