By: Mike Newell
Even with kick off moments away, BMO Field stood half empty as the Canadian Mens national team took on Peru in friendly competition, although it should be noted that Toronto sports fan are notoriously late when showing up for matches. Both small sets of supporters though were in good voice as the game kicked off.
For Canada this was in earnest the start of their Mission: 2014 Campaign. In December the Canadian Soccer Association announced a series a upcoming friendlies against higher levelled opponents in order to better prepare the team of Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying. After the disappointing turn of events during World Cup 2010 qualifying, the CSA determined that one of the factors that led to the poor form was a lack of match sharpness due to a lack of matches played together.
From the start of the game Canada controlled most of the possession and were the team driving forward, however Peru were dangerous with quick counter attacks and created more direct chances on goal. Juan Manuel Vargas was presented with the first good opportunity of the match when he thrashed his first time volley over the goal following a Jefferson Farfan cross into the box. Farfan continued to create problems as his pace and strength created another chance on goal though his shot was weak and saved easily by Lars Hirschfeld.
Canada looked lively on the ball with good exchange play, especially between Julian De Guzman and striker Rod Friend. This link up play almost resulted in a goal chance for Friend who attempted a deft flick over the shoulder of the Peruvian defender; however he was unable to find a way through. Over the past few weeks head coach Stephen Hart has been preaching a new passing philosophy in regards to the team’s play. This new approach was on full display in the first half as the team kept the majority of position. However an old problem reappeared and that was an inability to find the killer ball in the final third of the field. Even with 2009 Canadian player of the year Simeon Jackson providing a goal threat on the right side, the squad never really looked like scoring. As the half ended and the rain began to come down you began to wonder where the goals were going to come from.
In short the goals were going to come from Peru who in the second half started to show their class over the hosts. Peru’s quality of passing improved and the midfield’s influence on the game grew, by the 60th minute the game was firmly in their control. As Canada’s goal chances became slimmer it looked inevitable that Peru would find the break through. In the 68th minute Jose Carlos Fernandez headed Peru into the lead after Canada could not clear the back lines during a period of sustained pressure. Over half of announced crowd of 10,619 went wild as Peruvian supporters out numbered Canadian fans.
The pressure mounted on the hosts as the Peru controlled possession, and 4 minutes later Jean Tragodara doubled the South American’s lead with a low well placed shot past a diving Hirschfeld.
As the game wound down, both sets of players looked short of full fitness as the game slowed to an almost unwatchable pace.
Stephan Hart in his post game press conference praised the visitors for their second half performance, “I liked how they played, how they adjusted in the second half”, he said. “It’s a quality team we played against. We learned some lessons today”.
In his assessment of his squad Hart was happy with the first 45 minutes, pointing out the improvement in Simeon Jackson’s game. “His time in England (Norwich City) has helped him a great deal, he’ll only get better the more he plays”. However he acknowledged that “In the second half, we became careless with the ball and seemed to die physically; the Peruvians sped up their play.
Canada will have little time to rebound from the loss as they take on World Cup qualifiers Honduras on Tuesday in Montreal. Hart will also have to produce a result without some of his top players as he has sent Dwayne De Rosario, Julian De Guzman and Nana Attakora back to Toronto FC and first choice left back Marcel De Jong to his German club due to injury.