Canada’s international window of destiny was here!
After a long campaign that started in March 2021, Canada finally had the chance to secure World Cup qualification for the first time since 1985. One win in the last three games would be good enough to qualify. This is what happened in Canada’s last three World Cup qualifying matches.
Costa Rica 1 – Canada 0
Despite a spirited and dominant performance in the second half, Canada was made to rue a poor first forty-five minutes in San José. Les Rouges entered the game knowing a win would guarantee a place in Qatar later this year, but it was the home team who started brighter.
The Costa Ricans threatened early on, firstly with a dangerous free-kick delivery ten minutes in that Canada midfielder Stephen Eustáquio diverted out for a corner. Then from the ensuing corner, defender Francisco Calvo headed the ball towards goal but failed to get his effort on target.
Just four minutes later, a sign of things to come. CF Montreal midfielder, Mark-Anthony Kaye left his foot up high on Ronald Matarrita’s shin, and after a lengthy VAR check, Kaye was very fortunate to only receive a yellow card. What seemed like a lucky escape would soon come back to haunt Kaye and Canada just twenty minutes later. Kaye barely touched Costa Rican Johan Venegas who was walking passed him at the time, but that didn’t stop the winger from diving to the ground in a late push for an Oscar nomination and conning the referee in the process. Mark-Anthony Kaye was given his second yellow card, meaning Canada was now down to ten men.
Canada’s task then got even harder as halftime loomed. Matarrita’s free-kick into the box wasn’t cleared properly, and a good link-up play between Gerson Torres and Joel Campbell gave Torres the chance to cross the ball into the path of midfielder Celso Borges, who made no mistake with his header to make it 1-0 Costa Rica with forty-five minutes on the clock. While Canada did recover from their poor start, they needed to be a lot better in the second half to secure a result.
Things were simplified in the second half for Canada after Panama could only draw 1-1 with Honduras. This meant that a draw would secure a World Cup spot, so Canada just needed one goal.
Just two minutes into the second half, Eustáquio flighted a perfectly weighted ball from midfield into the feet of Tajon Buchanan in the Costa Rican penalty area. The winger controlled the ball perfectly to make space for the shot, but his effort was matched by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Being down to ten men and chasing a goal, Canada was always going to be vulnerable to counterattacks. Fifty-two minutes in Matarrita cleared the ball upfield, and Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson was unfortunate to see the ball bounce off his head and send Joel Campbell through on goal with just keeper Milan Borjan to beat. Fortunately for Canada, Borjan was up to the task, keeping the score at 1-0. Despite this effort, Canada was looking more and more likely to score.
Ten minutes later, Canada drove the ball upfield. Cyle Larin put the ball into the path of Eustáquio who went on a powerful run into the box before dragging his effort agonizingly wide of the far left post of the goal. Les Rouges would come even closer with just under twenty minutes left in the game. Substitute Junior Hoilett showed great skill in the box to then play the ball into the path of striker Jonathan David. David’s low shot was saved but the ball went up in the air into the path of Buchanan, the Club Brugge winger, however, couldn’t keep his header down and hit the crossbar with his effort.
There would be one more chance for Canada with three minutes left, again Hoilett did well in the box to find full back Richie Laryea in space, the Nottingham Forrest man then whipped a dangerous ball into the six-yard box, perfect for the oncoming Jonathan David. But again, Canada was denied by the woodwork as David could only find the crossbar with his headed effort, making it the fourth time in just two games Canada had struck the woodwork against Costa Rica.
The home team held on to hand Canada their first defeat in World Cup qualifying and keep their own World Cup dreams alive. Despite being down to ten men, Canada played much better in the second half, and manager John Herdman can be pleased with the effort his players put in with the man disadvantage. Next up for Canada was a game against Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field, where once again the opportunity to make history awaited.
Canada 4 – Jamaica 0
After a thirty-six-year wait, Canada secured qualification to a World Cup, and they did it with some style in front of a passionate home crowd in Toronto. In the cold and snowy BMO conditions, Canada wasted no time in warming up the crowd. Just three minutes in, Jonathan David went on a powerful run with the ball towards the Jamaican goal, the ball then broke into the path of his strike partner Cyle Larin, but Canada’s all-time top goal scorers effort was palmed away by Jamaican keeper Andre Blake.
Less than ten minutes later, Larin would get another chance. Sam Adekugbe and Hoillet worked the ball up the left flank before finding Stephen Eustáquio just outside the box. The Porto midfielder then played through Larin who made no mistake from eight yards out to make it 1-0 and send BMO Field, along with all of Canada wild! Les Rouges were clearly in the mood and looked to double the lead almost immediately. This time Larin played provider, setting the ball up for David whose shot from the edge of the box went just wide of the goal.
Canada continued to be relentless in the first half, and a second goal seemed inevitable. Two minutes before halftime, David picked up the loose ball after Jamaica failed to clear a Eustáquio free-kick. The in-demand Lille striker crossed the ball perfectly into the feet of Tajon Buchanan, and the winger made no mistake from close range to make it 2-0 and really get the party started. After an utterly dominant first half, Canada was now forty-five minutes from making history.
Canada kept their foot on the gas to start the second half. Firstly after forty-seven minutes, Cyle Larin got the ball in the box and his across goal effort was just out of range for Buchanan to tap into an empty net. Then almost immediately afterwards, Larin again was unselfish in the box, this time cutting the ball back to Jonathan David, but his effort went just wide of the goal. Canada continued to dominate possession but it wouldn’t be until the final ten minutes that they would add to the lead.
With nine minutes left, Buchanan did well to rob a Jamaican defender of possession in the Jamaican penalty area, at which point he found Junior Hoilett in space and the Reading FC forward finish from inside the box to make it 3-0. They weren’t done there, from a pacy ball from midfield that was played upfield, Adekugbe showed tremendous pace to keep the ball from going over the byline, and his dangerous cross into the box was too much for Jamaica’s Adrian Mariappa, who’s attempted clearance could only find his own net, making it 4-0 and sealing a famous day in Canadian sports history!
At the sounding of the final whistle, it was official, Canada was going to Qatar 2022! After thirty-six years, and eight consecutive failed qualifying campaigns, Canada had ended the drought. It was no less than this team deserves, and before they can find out their fate in the group stage, they would have to play away to Panama.
Panama 1 – Canada 0
Despite losing their last game, Canada ended their 2022 qualifying campaign as the top team in CONCACAF thanks to a superior goal difference over Mexico. John Herdman made changes for his side’s trip to Panama City, most notably with Lucas Cavallini starting over Cyle Larin, and Maxime Crépeau getting the nod in goal over Milan Borjan.
Panama did threaten early on around the eleven-minute mark, a high press allowed Panama to win the ball back deep in Canadian territory, and Panama striker José Luis Rodríguez‘s cross into the box was met by teammate Gabriel Torres, but pressure from defender Kamal Miller was enough to see him put his effort high and wide.
Canada’s first opportunity to strike came twenty-seven minutes in. Eustáquio played a long ball perfectly towards Jonathan David in the Panama box, but before the Lille striker could hit the ball cleanly, Panama defender José Córdoba was alleged to have done just enough to win the ball, much to the frustration of David who claimed for a penalty.
The teams traded half-chances afterwards, firstly Canada’s Sam Adekugbe hit a free-kick over the bar and then Panama’s Cristian Martínez dragged a long-range shot wide of the target as time expired in the first half.
After a quiet first half, Panama wasted no time in lighting the game up from a forty-eighth-minute counterattack. After winning the ball near their own box, Panama quickly pounced on the breakaway and found themselves in a three attackers versus three defenders situation. Panama’s Rodríguez then put a dangerous ball into the box, perfectly out of reach for Canada’s Kamal Miller, but perfectly into the path of Gabriel Torres who slotted it home making it 1-0 for Panama.
Canada was now looking to respond, and they nearly did with just half an hour left to go. Substitutes Junior Hoilett and Cyle Larin combined on the left wing to set the ball up in the box into the path of the oncoming Jonathan David, who unfortunately could only direct his first time shot straight at Panama keeper Luis Mejía. With just ten minutes left, Canada again worked the ball well on the left-hand side, this time it was Hutchinson, Adekugbe and Hoilett who combined to set up Hoilett to cross the ball into the box which was met brilliantly by Larin to put the ball into the net. There was an issue over if Larin was offside or not, and after a lengthy VAR check, Larin was deemed to have been just offside, meaning the goal was unfortunately disallowed.
There was still time for Canada to come close again. Jonathan Osorio’s eighty-ninth minute low cross across the Panama goal was agonizingly out of reach for the three Canadian forwards in the penalty area. Then with just a few minutes left of added-on time, Larin’s header from a Hoilett free-kick went just wide off the far post.
1-0 was the final score, not thanks to results elsewhere on the night, Canada was officially crowned as the top team in CONCACAF World Cup Qualification. A fitting reward for a team that has inspired a nation, and I’m sure many will agree that for this young, talented Canadian side, this is just the beginning!
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