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Canada U23s - Olympic Hopes Fading

Canada .... 1 Honduras .... 1

Honduras v Canada - 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying
Ballou Tabla (right) takes on Arriaga of Honduras.
Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images

What always promised to be a tall order just reached Everest proportions...

To qualify for the Tokyo Olympics Canada was always going to have to defeat one of the region’s big three, Mexico, USA or Costa Rica. They’d have preferred either of the latter two, but have pulled the toughest of the lot, Mexico... in its own Guadalajara backyard.

Mauro Biello and his merry band of men are professionals and will go into the game believing they can win, but really this is as close to unsurmountable as it gets.

The Mexicans, whose players all pretty much have been playing regular football leading up to this tournament are overwhelming favourites. Only a few European-based Canadians have the same levels of conditioning.

And the hosts, with their senior side not yet involved in World Cup qualifying matches, have called upon the best U23 talent at their disposal, while Canada has almost double figures of eligible U23 players away with senior side as their WC qualifying begins.

Barely a level playing-field, but as Thierry Henry was often known to say, “It is what it is.”

A win last night would have enabled Canada to avoid the fabled Mexicans, who look a cut above anything in this tournament, but apart from the raised optimism created by Derek Cornelius’ brilliantly headed 28th minute opener, they never looked likely.

Honduras v Canada - 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying
Canada’s best moment of the match as Theo Bair (left) congratulates Derek Cornelius on his finely headed goal...
Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images

Within two minutes the Hondurans were level, James Pantemis choosing the moment for his first blunder of the tournament. The CF Montreal ‘keeper advanced from his line to collect a deep left-wing cross, but got nowhere close. Denil Maldonado, the Honduran captain planted his header into the unguarded net.

After that indeed Pantemis was the busier ‘keeper, and with Canada looking tired and leggy, you feel the equalizing goal would have come at some stage. Like the Mexicans, Honduras’ players have been playing regular league football for the past several months. The timing of this tournament undoubtedly does not favour the north American countries.

The second-half was mainly one-way traffic, with Canada failing to carve out a worthwhile chance. Early headline-maker, Tajon Buchanan was forced to drop deeper in an attempt to assert influence, but although the less advanced role possibly suits the New England man better, he was unable to lift his team. Part of Canada’s problem was they needed him in both roles, such is their lack of forward firepower.

Cornelius who went off injured around the 70-minute mark was Canada’s outstanding performer on the night and if there was a plus for the Reds, it was they didn’t lose the game.

Honduras v Canada - 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying
Biello must find a way to trouble Mexico, Sunday
Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images

But how Mauro Biello can lift his men and get enough fuel into his tired troupe to trouble the Mexicans remains to be seen, or not.

The coach needs to find a strategy from somewhere that enables his men to compete physically with the best team in the region for a full ninety-plus minutes. It’s doubtful if that can be found, even benefitting from 48 hours rest.

I wasn’t joking when suggesting in a previous article that qualification for this Olympics would represent Canada’s greatest achievement internationally for 21 years, when the senior men’s team brought home the Gold Cup.

Mission Guadalajara has become Mission Impossible... almost. If Mauro can find a way he may just be labelled ‘miracle-man’.

Line-ups -

Canada - Pantemis - Brault-Guillard, Cornelius (capt) (Dias, 73), Norman Jnr, Godinho - Buchanan (Farsi, 83), Baldisimo (Daniels, 83), Metcalfe, Bassong - Bair (Brym, 61), Tabla (Raposo, 61)
Coach: Mauro Biello

Honduras - Guity - Melendez, Maldonado (capt), Garcia, Decas - Reyes, Arriaga, Rodriguez (Rosales Erazo, 90+1), Palma - Rivas (Pinto, 73), Oregon Jnr
Coach: Miguel Falero

Referee: Cesar Ramos (Mexico)

Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 21). Recorded Wednesday (24 March), the TBIR team discuss the National Team’s Road to Qatar, the U23s in Mexico, a return for Jason Di Tullio and Florida pre-season plans... Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!

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