Mathieu Choinière notched his first youth international goal on Thursday as Canada finished in sixth place at the prestigious Festival International Espoirs Provence after a 1:2 loss to host France. Canada were a formidable group throughout the competition and undefeated in the group phase, turning plenty of heads in the competition and back home.
“We are absolutely proud of what this team has been able to pull together,” said John Herdman, Canada’s co-coach along with Mauro Biello for the Toulon tournament in France.”It was great to see that they showed that togetherness that we had hoped to see. They showed true team spirit.”
Canada were undefeated in the group stage, finishing second in Group C with five points. The team allowed only one goal in three matches in group play. The young Canadians opened the tournament with a 0:0 draw with Portugal last week, then followed that up with a 1:0 victory over Turkey, who went on to win Group C and advance to the Semi-finals. Canada rounded out the group stage with a 1:1 draw against Japan.
In the match for 5th/6th place, France took the lead in the 24th minute on a goal by Axel Bakayoko. Canada came on strong in the second half, getting behind their opponents, finding the gaps and unbalancing the hosts. As the match opened up, though, France scored again, this time in the 72nd minute on a goal by substitute Steve Abri.
Choinière then responded just three minutes later to cut the lead in half with just five minutes remaining.
“We are very proud of what this group achieved,” said Biello. “It was great to work with them. They showed a lot of maturity, quality, fight, and belief in Canada. That was the most important quality we wanted.”
It was an incredible journey for the Canadian squad, who came together for the first time to compete at this major tournament. Despite having played together for a short amount of time, the young Canadians were able to turn heads at the international level as they adapted to new styles of play against strong competition and fought for results.
The team was captained by Kris Twardek and Derek Cornelius. From the four matches in the competition, Canada’s goalscorers were Noah Verhoeven against Turkey, Theo Bair against Japan, and Mathieu Choinière against France. From the opening two matches, Canada posted back-to-back clean sheets against European opponents in the same tournament for the first time in Canadian program history, with Pantemis in goal for the opener and Alessandro Busti in goal for the second match. Legault, Cornelius, Pantemis, and Choinière were Canada’s Players of the Match across four international youth matches.
Canada are now looking ahead to the next Men’s National Team matches in 2018-19 Concacaf Nations League. They are also looking ahead to the next Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship which will serve as the qualification route for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019. More than half the Canadian squad from this tournament in France are born 1999 or later and are thus eligible for those upcoming U-20 competitions. All players are also eligible for the next Olympic Qualifiers ahead of Tokyo 2020.