After a long, long, wait Canada is finally back on soccer’s biggest stage! The current team has thoroughly deserved their place in Qatar and they have been utterly scintillating all throughout World Cup qualification, even securing their place with a game to spare! There was many key and iconic moment formed along the way, and while it’s almost impossible to sum up the campaign in just a few key moments, here are five particularly memorable moments that played a crucial part in Canada reaching the World Cup.
5. Sam Adekugbe Seals the Win Against U.S.A.
Going into this game against the U.S.A. at Tim Horton’s Field, Canada was already well on their way to World Cup qualification, but a win over the Americans always means a lot to Canadians, especially with first place in CONCACAF’s qualification table at stake.
Canada made a fantastic start to the game when Cyle Larin opened the scoring after just seven minutes to send the Hamilton crowd wild. While the Americans had their chances, Canada put on a mature and controlled performance to keep the Americans at arm’s length throughout most of the match, and with just seconds left on the clock, Canada sealed a famous win in stunning fashion.
Fullback Sam Adekugbe had been one of Canada’s star players throughout the qualification campaign and on the ninety-fifth minute, he rubber-stamped a famous win for Canada. From Kamal Miller’s clearance upfield, Adekugbe took control of the ball and skipped past a challenge from Miles Robinson and as a result found himself through on goal with the American defenders forced to chase after him. From the edge of the box, Adekugbe picked his spot and place his shot into the left-hand side of the net, passing the American keeper Matt Turner to make it 2-0.
The result allowed Canada to extend their lead at the top of the CONCACAF qualification table, and also show that their win over the States in 2019 wasn’t a fluke, solidifying that they are indeed going to be a real threat in the region for years to come.
4. Getting a Point at the Azteca
Despite a disappointing 1-1 draw with Honduras at home, Canada recovered to draw with the States in Nashville, and then route El Salvador 3-0 at home. But this was to be their biggest test of the whole campaign, an away trip to Mexico City’s iconic Estadio Azteca.
Canada had never won at the Azteca before. In fact, they hadn’t avoided defeat in Mexico since 1981. With the Azteca’s hostile crowd and significantly high altitude, it was assumed that Canada would lose this game also. In front of a partisan home crowd of 61,000, Mexico took the lead at the twenty-first-minute mark, thanks to a Jorge Sánchez strike in the box.
At this point, you would’ve expected to have seen Canadian teams from the past not being able to recover to going a goal down early on, but this Canadian team is different.
Canada began to dominate the game after the goal, with Tajon Buchanan and Alphonso Davies, in particular, giving the Mexican defence a lot of problems to deal with. Then, with forty-one minutes on the clock, Davies from outside the box played a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Jonathan Osorio, the Toronto forward made no mistake slotting the ball passed Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexican goal to make it 1-1.
Canada held their own throughout the second half and the game played out to a 1-1 score at full time. Although they didn’t win, a point at the Azteca, especially early on in the campaign, was huge for Canada. They had now gone away to both the United States and Mexico and came out undefeated, they truly had nothing to fear anymore against CONCACAF’s two biggest sides.
3. Atiba Hutchinson’s Goal Against El Salvador
After the highs of two wins in November against Mexico and Costa Rica, Canada then faced the daunting prospect of two away games in Central America against Honduras and El Salvador. This humid and hostile environment has traditionally been a part of the world where Canada’s World Cup dreams have gone to die, and one man who can attest to that is Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson.
Hutchinson, who made his debut for Canada in 2003 was part of a Canadian side that faced Honduras in 2012 needing only a draw to reach the final round of CONCACAF qualification. Instead what followed was a crushing 8-1 defeat which went down as one of the darkest days in Canadian soccer history.
Fast forward ten years later, and Hutchinson is now Canada’s all-time appearance holder and his team were on the verge of World Cup qualification. After earlier wins in the window against Honduras and the States, a win in El Salvador would have Canada on the verge of qualification. The game was tight and closely contested with the score remaining 0-0 after sixty-five minutes.
Cyle Larin had won the ball upfield and the thirty-eight-year-old Hutchinson dashed into the box to give his Beşiktaş teammate an option to cross it into. Hutchinson did indeed get the ball in the box but his effort hit the post. However the ball then proceeded to ricochet off of El Salvador defender Eriq Zavaleta, and then again off of Hutchinson (who was lying on the ground), and with El Salvadoran goalkeeper Kevin Carabantes out of position, the ball found its way into the net in what was a very unorthodox passage of play, but ultimately ending in a 1-0 lead for Canada.
It would go on to be the game-winning goal and seal an incredible nine points out of nine in Canada’s January window. Hutchinson, who had given many years of his career to a Canadian team that was stuck in the soccer wilderness, was now just three points away from the World Cup.
2. Milan Borjan Last-Minute Save Against Mexico
In November 2021, 44,212 fans packed Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium to watch Canada take on Mexico. It had been twenty-one years since Canada defeated Mexico and forty-five years since they defeated Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. But with a passionate crowd behind them, there was a sense of anticipation in the air that this was Canada’s time to announce themselves to the wider soccer world.
Les Rouges started the first half as the better team, with Mexico being unable to cause Canada any problems. Just before halftime, Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa could only parry Alistair Johnston’s shot into the path of Cyle Larin, who finished up the shot to make it 1-0 for Canada at the half.
With momentum behind them, Canada began the second half strong and looked to make their lead more commanding. In the fiftieth minute, Canada had a free-kick from their left wing which was flighted into the box beautifully by Stephen Eustáquio, catching the Mexican defenders off guard. Man of the moment, Cyle Larin once again found himself at the right place at the right time to get a foot on the ball and guide it past the flat-footed Ochoa making it 2-0.
As the second half went on, Mexico grew more and more into the game and even managed to get on the scoresheet. In the 89th minute, Mexico’s Jesús Manuel Corona crossed the ball in from the right perfectly for his striker Héctor Herrera to head the ball into the bottom right corner giving Canada keeper Milan Borjan no chance and setting up a nervy last five minutes for Canada. With Canada desperately holding onto the lead, up stepped Milan Borjan.
In the ninety-second minute, Mexico’s Andrés Guardado produced a deadly delivery into the six-yard box from a corner that made its way to Jorge Sánchez who looked set to bundle the ball over the line and make it 2-2. But just in time, Borjan made a great last-minute save to get his body in front of the shot and preserve the lead.
Thanks to that Borjan save, Canada held on for just their fourth ever win over Mexico and took the top spot in the table in the process. Those two points saved by Borjan proved to be very important for Canada, giving them a cushion over Mexico that they maintained throughout the rest of the campaign.
1. Alphonso Davies Goal Against Panama
At just twenty years old (at the time of the Panama game), Alphonso Davies was already crowned as Canadian soccer’s golden goose. Davies is one of the best fullbacks/wingers in the world and has already won every trophy he can possibly win for Bayern Munich, including the 2020 UEFA Champions League. So in a game that Canada had to win against Panama (who were above Canada in the table at the time), perhaps he was always going to be the man to step up.
Despite encouraging draws away at Mexico and the U.S., Canada sat with just one win after five games, and just five minutes into the game, striker Rolando Blackburn gave Panama the lead in Toronto. Canada and Davies would soon go hunting for an equalizer, and it wouldn’t be long. After he had a couple of on-target shots saved by keeper Luis Mejía, Davies delivered a dangerous corner that went off the head of Panama’s Michael Amir Murillo for an own goal to make it 1-1.
Despite dominating the chances, it was still 1-1 with just half an hour left, but then came a moment of brilliance. Tajon Buchanan played a seemingly wayward ball up the field that looked set to go out for a throw-in. But out of nowhere, Davies sprinted up the field and not only kept the ball in play at the last second but was now through on goal after catching the Panama defence off guard. Davies burst into the box, and after making space for himself passed a defender, Davies fired the ball in the net, capping off an incredible solo effort to send the BMO Field crowd into a frenzy.
Davies and Canada turned on the style, just five minutes after the Davies goal, Tajon Buchanan made it 3-1 with a towering header, and then in the seventy-seventh minute, Davies’ pass into the box fell perfectly into the path of Jonathan David, who scored to put the game truly out of sight at 4-1.
Since Davies’ wonder goal, Canada hasn’t looked back. After just one win in five, they followed that win against Panama up with six wins in seven games to reach their first FIFA World Cup since 1986. In a campaign full of many memorable moments, the Davies solo goal against Panama is for many the moment that they truly started to believe, that Canada is a soccer nation.
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