The Canadian u17 MNT this morning are preparing for home having failed to extend their interest in the World Cup, by losing by the slimmest of margins to New Zealand.
It was a frustrating night for the young Canadians who dominated possession (61%) and comfortably led the shot count (21-7 with 10-4 on target).
They came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Alex Paulsen, already part of the All Whites u23 squad, recently qualified for the 2020 Olympic soccer tournament. And even when Jayden Nelson finally did manage to get the better of him, VAR intervened to chalk the goal off.
The game started brightly for Canada, the restored Catavolo teeing up Nelson who slipped past his marker with ease, before being foiled by Paulsen’s outstretched right boot from six yards. That was on four minutes.
On 27, disaster struck for the Canadians. Pecile was penalized, and cautioned for a foul on Garbutt, New Zealand’s main threat. A short roll of the ball backwards and Garbutt audaciously let fly from all of 35 yards. If there was ever a situation to perfectly demonstrate the old adage, ‘if you don’t shoot, you don’t score’ this was it.
The young Western Suburbs striker clearly possesses the confidence and ability for such an attempt, but he enjoyed the rub of the green too, the ball’s slight deflection off Priso, enough to flat-foot Eleias Himaras, making his first tournament appearance between the posts for Canada.
The goal apart, Canada generally held the upper hand in the first 45, and their domination was to increase after the interval as they desperately attempted to find a way back into the game.
They thought their moment had arrived on 57 minutes, when Habibullah’s wonderful deft and cheeky chip took three defenders out of the game and provided the best chance of the tournament so far for Jayden Nelson, who finished coolly with a low shot to Paulsen’s left.
The execution was superb. How it, and Canada, deserved a goal, yet VAR, a saviour on their date with Angola, was this time less friendly, ruling the strike out due to an offside during an earlier phase in the move.
Paulsen had already stopped Russell-Rowe from point-blank range on 49, as the Toronto-based striker attempted to become the first Canadian to score more than twice at an u17 World Cup. Inspired, the New Zealand number one also thwarted Habibullah on 55, and possibly produced his best save on 79 when Impact Academy player Sean Rea broke through, the goalkeeper getting fingertips to Rea’s clever attempt.
Garbutt may have been the match-winner, but captain Paulsen was undoubtedly Man of this particular Match.
With Rea’s attempt, Canada’s chances effectively all but evaporated. Indeed Garbutt almost grabbed a second for New Zealand in the 83rd minute, but Himaras came up big to maintain the deficit at one. Canada kept pushing deep into eight minutes of added time but could not break the retreating eleven-man New Zealand seige.
All-Whites coach, Jose Figueira acknowledged his team had been under the cosh for much of the contest.
“Today was all about the boys sticking together, we’ve spoken a lot about a brotherhood and a connection and they showed that in absolute spades in the second half.
“Of course, you want us to have the ball more and try to control the game but sometimes you have to dig deep, roll your sleeves up and fight. I was really proud of the players in that sense.
“Our name is now in the hat and we’ll see how the other results go but at least we get to stay a few extra days in this beautiful country.”
A bitterly disappointed Andrew Oliveri was in philosophical mood and preferred to focus on the wider scenario.
“We were really good tonight but the next step for our program is to learn how to win big games like this.
“We’re looking for the next players that can develop and excel into the Men’s National Team in time and continue to make our program better. Some of these boys are on the path to doing that and I hope they’ve learned something here that’s going to help them along the way.”
So Canada’s Brazilian World Cup sojourn ends sooner than it might, the Canucks head home without that first-ever win at this level (tied 4, lost 17). Despite some good individual performances and promise on view, the program remains in need of further development and improvement.
These lads will all be in their early 20’s when the World Cup comes to North America in 2026. Inevitably some will be part Canada’s squad at the big event. Some will manage to find clubs abroad. Either way, let’s hope the program can help prepare them to take on The World when that time comes.
Canada - Himaras - Vellios (Kane, 82), Pecile, Facchineri (c), Ferdinand - Habibullah, Demian, Priso, Catavolo (Rea, 74) - Nelson, Russell-Rowe (Kerr, 60)
Coach: Andrew Oliveri
New Zealand - Paulsen (c) - Naicker, Simpkin, Strong, Jelacic (Hamilton, 46) - Stamenic (Hillis, 65), Garbett, O’Connor, van Hattum (Randall, 73) - Bright, Old
Coach: Jose Figueira
Match Officials -
Referee: Mario DIAZ DE VIVAR (PAR)
Asst Refs: Milciades SALDIVAR (PAR), Roberto Casiano CANETE LURAGHI (PAR)
4th Official: Peter WAWERU (KEN)
VAR: Armando Villareal (USA)