Field Hockey Canada > Canadian men ready to renew rivalry with France in World League Semi-Final prep series

Canadian men ready to renew rivalry with France in World League Semi-Final prep series

PHOTO: Canada’s Iain Smythe celebrates a goal against France in the 2012 Olympic Qualifier in New Delhi, India.

June 2, 2017 | Shaheed Devji |

They have met in their fair share of big games. So it’s safe to say, Canada and France could be considered rivals.

Most recently, Canada beat the French 3-2 at the 2014 Champions Challenge in Malaysia. But just a year before, in Saint-Germain, France, the fate was different.

For Canadian forward Matthew Sarmento, that 2013 World League Round 2 in Saint-Germain was a big deal.

Sarmento was fresh on the Senior National Level and was playing in his first international competition.

“It was really special to be there and I was really excited,” says the 25 year-old native of Vancouver, British Columbia. “I didn’t really know much about international hockey at the time.”

And boy was it ever an introduction.

World League Round 2 that year was part of the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands. Canada had to finish in the top two in France in order to advance to Round 3 and have a chance at qualification.

In the final game of the competition, the Canadians faced the host French in a one game, winner moves on scenario, were up 2-0 and had their sights set on a spot in the next round, before things went south.

“When you go up 2-0, you expect to win the games,” Sarmento explains. “And then eventually it’s 2-1, 2-2 and we lost 3-2. It was pretty heartbreaking.”

Canada did not advance to World League Round 3, and later that year fell short at the Pan Am Cup, meaning they would not have a spot at the World Cup the following year.

It was part of a learning curve for a team that, despite having a handful of veterans, was still fairly young with an average age of 24.4 years old.

And after tying France in a game which they needed to win to continue their Olympic qualification hopes in 2012, it was another less than desired result at the hands of the French.

“It definitely left a bit of a sour (taste) in our mouth when we left France,” says veteran Iain Smythe. “We were hoping to continue and go forward into World League Round 3.”

Fast forward four years and 11th ranked Canada is back in France, set to take on the 17th ranked French in a three-game exhibition series ahead of the World League Semi-Final in London, a qualifier for the next World Cup in 2018.

This year, Canada advanced through World League Round 2 fairly easily, a testament to the maturity of a team that features 11 players from the 2013 roster, but now has an average age of 26.1, has advanced through two World League Round 2’s, and has competed in an Olympic Games (2016 in Brazil).

“Now we have a team that is well rounded,” adds Smythe, who has been around for the entire journey since 2012 match against France at the Olympic Qualification tournament in New Delhi India.

“They’re a competitive team, they’re a very good team. I think this is great opportunity for them to play us, and it’s a great opportunity for us as well because we are two equal teams.”

And while the visit to France this year does not carry any serious implications, aside from getting game ready for London, there is pride on the line.

And the chance for a little bit of payback for 2013 will likely add an intensity to the matches which may have been lacking without the history between the two teams.

“Looking to get some retribution for sure,” says Sarmento. “I think we’re definitely a stronger side than we were back then.”

Canada and France play the first of the three-game set on Sunday, June 4th at 6:30pm local time.