Wed, Nov 17, 2021 - Edmonton, Alberta.
After eight rounds of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying hexagonal, Canada sit proudly top of the pile, remaining as the only unbeaten nation.
Last night in Edmonton’s freezing temperatures regional heavyweights Mexico became the latest victim of the Herdman Revolution, losing to Les Rouges for the first time in 21 years. It’s actually 45 years since Canada defeated the same opponent in World Cup play!
No longer a nation bullied by CONCACAF powerhouses or self-pitied through dodgy WC refereeing decisions, Canada has built a sturdy platform from which to very seriously contemplate a first WC qualification since 1986.
It now looks a straight fight between Canada, USA, Mexico and Panama for the three automatic qualification berths for Qatar ‘22.
Cyle Larin was Canada’s two-goal hero, but it was a night of heroes in black all over the pitch, including goalkeeper Milan Borjan (in purple) who produced a critical save from Jorge Sanchez in the 94th minute, as the Mexicans threatened to equalize. It was during El Tri’s best period of the game; the last ten mins appended by an additional 8 of added time.
It could yet be the Croatian-born ‘keeper’s career defining save, but we’ll see.
So often in the past Canada has approached games against the region’s big-two from a frame of inferiority. Such thoughts of trepidation are now banished from Canada’s finest collection of footballers ever. Coach John Herdman deserves immense credit, but the timing is just as critical, probably more so, given the plentiful and talented raw material the coach has at his disposal.
Yet Larin’s selection was brave and inspired. Arriving prior to the Costa Rica game the striker wasn’t feeling 100% and his inclusion over Jonathan David, match-winning goalscorer v the Ticos, was a big decision. Upon reflection now though, it was the right one.
Canada played the game on the front foot against more revered opponents. And when the opening goal arrived in first-half stoppage time it had much to do with the alertness of Nashville SC’s Alistair Johnson.
Johnston eclipsed a hesitant Alvarez, nodding the ball forward and without breaking stride launched the co-operatively bouncing ball goal-wards. Ochoa got down well but possibly surprised by the strike, could only parry into the path of on-rushing Larin. The Besiktas Turkish title-winner needed no second invitation. Delirium. 1-0 - Canada!!!
Certainly the conditions played their part. Mexicans are no more familiar with breathing vapour clouds into the dark night air, as Canadians are with sweltering mid-day Mexico City heat and altitude, something not lost on coach Herdman...
“Every country uses its terrain as an advantage and we saw this as a genuine advantage.
“This was an opportunity to bring out the Canadian in our players. They’ve all grown up on plastic pitches and cold conditions.
“For us we wanted them [Canada’s players] to feel like it was home and for the Mexicans they had to adapt like we had to adapt to altitude.”
It took only seven second-half minutes for Canada to double its advantage. Someone in the centre of Mexico’s defence wasn’t doing his job properly, but the quality of Estaquio’s free-kick from the left guaranteed danger, and again that man Larin obliged, deftly touching past Ochoa who was forced to advance from his line.
Cue a goal celebration like no other and typically Canadian at that, against the backdrop of a snowbank which provided safe-landing for excellent full-back, Sam Adekugbe.
If they weren’t already, Canada were certainly on their way now!
But as with all quality opposition in any match, Mexico would have moments; a period of ascendancy, which hadn’t yet arrived.
And the visitors didn’t disappoint. Edmonton’s 44,000 had plenty of opportunity to hold its collective chilled-breath during the game’s concluding moments, especially after Hector Herrera halved the arrears in minute 90. Corona engineered space on the right flank and sent over an exquisite centre. Three colleagues waited to meet the cross and Herrera planted a perfect header into the corner of Borjan’s net.
The Mexicans had other opportunities, not least Borjan’s amazing stop when Sanchez thought he’d bundled home the leveller. The closing stages felt like a lifetime to Herdman...
“We learned that the game is not over until that final whistle blows.
“That was probably the longest six minutes of my bloody life. Thank God for Milan Borjan and everyone one else that put their bodies on the line there to see us through.”
It was also a reminder that even this Canadian squad must still work hard on improving its game-management. Certainly under Herdman, it’s better. So is the team’s defending but without yet being totally convincing.
Still, it’s not a time for being churlish. Make no mistake this was a momentous and hugely significant victory as is the fact that Canada remains unbeaten through eight rounds of the Hex, which has included three meetings (2 away, 1 home) against traditional heavyweights, USA and Mexico.
Qualification now is Canada’s to throw away, but focus must be maintained for the remaining half-dozen games; four of which are on the road. But given Herdman’s professionalism and drive you expect that’s a given. The Consett-born coach won’t let minds drift, or allow players to get ahead of themselves. He’ll keep them grounded.
Excitement in the beautiful game - the one true world-game - has never been higher in the vast expanse that is Canada. These boys, their coach and the general professional development of the game in the country - three MLS clubs and the new CanPL - has all contributed immensely to the drive forward.
The most improved nation in world football? There are a few national teams around the world that have justifiable claims to that crown. But the fact anyone would even consider this about Canada just about says everything that needs saying.
Canada: Borjan - Johnston, Henry (Vitoria, 38), Miller - Laryea, Hutchinson, Eustaquio, Adekugbe - Buchanan, Davies (Osorio, 88) - Larin (David, 73) (Cavallini, 88)
Bench (not used): Pantemis, Millar, Wotherspoon, Crepeau, Cornelius, Piette, Ugbo, Kaye.
Head Coach: John Herdman
Mexico: Ochoa - Araujo, Dominguez (Corona, 46), Vasquez - Sanchez, Herrera, Alvarez (Guardado, 74), Pineda (Cordova, 59), Galardo - Raul Jimenez, Lozano (Alvarado, 46).
Bench (not used): Talavera, Rodriguez; C, Romo, Funes Mori, Cota, Rodriguez; O, Martin, Angulo.
Head Coach: Gerardo Martinez.
Referee: Mario Escobar (GTM)
Asst Refs: Caleb Wales (TTO), William Arrieta (CRC)
4th Official: Benjamin Pineda (CRC)