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Mistakes cost Canadian women in final pre-Olympic friendly

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The Canadian women’s national team has only beaten the French on one past occasion; of course, that was the bronze medal match at the 2012 Olympics.

France goes into the 2016 Olympics as a podium favourite; Canada is a podium outsider. At the 2015 Women’s World Cup, according to FIFA’s technical analysis, France had the highest rate of possession of any of the 24 teams taking part — at 60 per cent.

But, when the two teams met Saturday in Auxerre in their final pre-Olympic friendly, France started a “B” side that, well, didn’t pass the Canadians into the ground. But, even though Canada didn’t look overmatched by the world’s No. 3-ranked women’s soccer nation, a series of key mistakes allowed the French to claim a 1-0 win.

And if these kind of mistakes show up during Canada’s games at the Rio Olympics, its stay in Brazil will be short.

Camille Abily’s winning goal came off a free kick late in the first half. And, while Abily did strike the ball sweetly, and put plenty of swerve on her effort, she was well off to the right of keeper Canadian Stephanie Labbe. The goal, even though cut in from the side, beat Labbe at the near post. And, even though Canadian women’s national-team coach John Herdman has repeatedly issued votes of confidence in Labbe since No. 1 Erin McLeod went down with a career-threatening injury, his faith hasn’t, let’s say, been 100-per-cent rewarded.

Labbe did redeem herself somewhat with a good diving stop in the 90th minute on an Elodie Thomis breakaway.

But Canada made other mental errors, as well. In the seventh minute, Ashley Lawrence made a wonderful run down the left side, got round the back of the French back line, and then laid a ball across the box for a wide-open Jessie Fleming to tap in. Fleming, who scored the winner in the midweek win over China, fluffed the chance — as if she was surprised to have the ball come to her in such a wide-open spot.

In the second half, Fleming also had a chance to chip the ball over a couple of defenders and into the goal after French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi went for the kind of inexplicable walkabout we haven’t seen since Rein Baart patrolled the turf at Foote Field. Fleming’s attempt was short, and didn’t clear the defenders. Later in the sequence, Janine Beckie stuck the ball in the net and, after the referee initially gave the goal, the decision was reversed and the marker was correctly ruled out for offside.

For a Canadian team that’s never going to create a basket of scoring chances, taking advantage of the precious few opportunities they make will be key. And while there were bright spots, there were also causes for concern.

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