Last night’s final within a semi-final, was won predictably by Mexico, but not before a brave performance from Canada had threatened to derail the Mexican marvels.
The visitors never really looked like scoring however they had done enough to unsettle the Mexicans whose frustration boiled over in a sixteen player melee deep into first-half injury time. The hosts by then realizing things were not going all their way, reacted to a situation involving Tajon Buchanan and their right-sided defender, Vladimir Lorona
Without injured captain Derek Cornelius - he was on the bench - Mauro Biello opted for a back five with four midfielders in front and Charles Andreas Brym the spearhead up front. All things considered the strategy was the right one.
As expected El Tri set about Canada on the front foot in a quite furious opening which saw them enjoy 80% possession, a couple of sharp saves from Pantemis and a header from Esquivel a corner which whistled agonizingly wide.
But with Baldisimo and Metcalfe anchoring the midfield Canada managed to get a grip on proceedings, ensuring the latter stages of the half were less eventful. If the plan was to get under the skins of the Mexicans, at least that part of the strategy was working.
Notable signs of creativity were few and far between however and when they did appear it was Buchanan and the technically talented Dias who provided them.
Brault-Guillard had been left exposed to the excellent Cordova and saw yellow after a second foul on one of Mexico’s highest-rated prospects as the half entered stoppage time.
The interval was reached scoreless, objective #1 achieved.
The Mexicans becoming increasingly frustrated at Canada’s obstinate and determined resistance, harangued the referee suggesting greater punishment be meted out to David Norman jnr when he stopped Antuna illegally in a dangerous moment 40 yards from goal. The Canadian received a yellow card.
But with greater degrees of desperation creeping into Mexico’s play, they found the break they badly needed on 57 minutes when Pantemis, attempting to pass out from the back could only find a black shirt (why Mexico didn’t wear their traditional and regulation green no-one knows - marketing?). The ball was swiftly and clinically dispatched to the ever-dangerous Antuna, who was in on goal, facing the advancing Pantemis who failed to make amends.
It was another harsh moment on a goalkeeper who has performed well throughout the tournament, and hopefully one he will learn from. Decision-making is a crucial part of the game and on this occasion the Montrealer should have gone long.
Now Canada looked rattled and the second goal wasn’t long in coming, eight minutes later in fact. Canada hadn’t defended set-pieces terribly well and this was another example. Cordova’s delivery was beautiful, Johan Vazquez found too much space in Canada’s box and despite his thumping header coming back off an upright, managed to bundle the rebound home.
Rodriguez should have made it three a couple of minutes later, rifling wide when presented an acceptable chance to convert and you began to wonder whether Canada would manage to keep the margin respectable.
But respectability was maintained, with the only noteworthy incident to come, a reckless challenge by Bassong on the advancing Antunes for which a lenient, possibly old-fashioned referee produced only the yellow card.
All things considered this was a huge task for the young Canadian team, but one they went about wth great determination and hunger. There was no question they ‘wanted it’ as much as their illustrious hosts, who throughout possessed much more in their armoury.
Canada certainly failed in its quest for Olympic qualification, but in reaching the last four it was probably the outcome of acceptability. Not emerging from the group would have been considered under-performance, as advancing to the final would have represented punching above this squad’s collective weight.
Twenty-nine years now and no Olympics, there’s always Paris in 2024. At least this time the wait will be only three years and not four!
Mexico - Jurado - Lorona, Esquivel, Vasquez, Alberto Angulo - Antuna, Aguirre (Mayorga, 77), Rodriguez (Cervantes, 84), Cordova - Alvarado (Macias, 61), Vega (Jesus Angulo, 77)
Coach: Jaime Lozano
Canada - Pantemis - Brault-Guillard (Daniels, 66), Godinho, Montgomery (Abzi, 82), Norman jnr, Bassong - Buchanan, Metcalfe, Baldisimo (Raposo, 83), Dias (Bair, 60) - Brym (Ballou Tabla, 61)
Coach: Mauro Biello
Referee: Juan Calderon (Costa Rica)
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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