Surely, by now, the one thing Canada will not do in this evening’s vital Olympic qualifying game is underestimate Haiti.
There’s been fair warning. At senior level memories remain fresh of a late June evening at Reliant Stadium, Houston not two years ago, when they lost a Gold Cup quarter-final after cruising to a 2-0 lead, and then there’s the fact that Haiti’s only ever victory in Olympic qualifying came against Canada in 2008. That result prevented the Canadians from topping their group, thus having to face the USA (rather than Honduras) in the semi-finals.
Mauro Biello is certain to guard against any form of complacency this evening.
“We’re expecting a team that’s going to be fighting. Their existence in the tournament is on the line, so we need to match that type of intensity. Our mindset has to be ready to play against a team that’s hungry.”
Frustratingly given the debacle around Haiti’s first match when they were forced to begin the game with ten men and an outfield player in goal, nothing concrete can really be gleaned from their performance. But Haitian teams are noted for raising their level against Canada and they’ll want to right what they will consider a few wrongs, when they take the field in Guadalajara for their second game.
Biello reported a full bill of health at his press conference yesterday, but confusingly went on to say the medical team will need to evaluate Minnesota United’s Callum Montgomery, who left the action at half-time against El Salvador.
This could mean David Norman Jnr, normally a midfielder, deputizes again in central defence, or there could be a nod to Zorhan Bassong of CF Montreal.
The former Montreal Impact coach may also make minor rotational changes in an attempt to retain freshness especially with the altitude, heat and short rest period between games. It serves as somewhat of a dilemma. There must be a temptation to not change a winning team, especially when there’s been so little game-time for the components to gel and adapt to each other.
Montreal fans can again expect to see Ballou Tabla make a start. This is a player Biello likes and has worked with extensively in the past at club-level, but as in the El Salvador game he’s certain to have a substitute plan already in place. The belief is that Tabla cannot yet provide 90 minutes following recovery from an abductor injury which sidelined his 2020 season.
Friday evening’s star of the show, Tajon Buchanan has also been talking up an on-field relationship he feels is developing with the former Barcelona B player.
James Pantemis is certain to retain his place in goal, and Zachary Brault-Guillard, one of the more experienced players in the squad, will resume in the back four that shields him.
As for the Canadian players, there’s not been a lot of football played in the Ligue Hatienne since January, so as far as conditioning goes, there’s a level playing field.
It remains a tough one to call, not least because we don’t really know what you get with Haiti, but Biello’s team and Canadian fans will do well to be patient and not expect straightforward victory. It will have to be earned.
OneSoccer.com has the game as always. Kick-off is 1800 hrs.
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 20). Recorded Wednesday evening, the TBIR team discuss the Montreal captaincy, Henry’s recent UK TV appearance, Gilmore’s CCL comments and describe what the dawning of a new season means to each of them. Plus all the usual favourite features...and a new one... Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!
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