El Salvador .... (0)0 .... Canada .... (0)2
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Well it wasn’t pretty but again this Canadian team found a way.
They remain 4 points clear at top of the group and 8 ahead of 4th placed Panama with only three rounds of qualifying matches remaining.
It was a perfect window. Three matches played, nine points gained, no goals conceded... and as regular as it gets; 2-0, 2-0, 2-0.
Now only a miracle, or the end of the world, can prevent Canada reaching the World Cup finals for the second time in history.
It was the old and the young who did the damage. Atiba Hutchinson not a penalty-kick away from his 39th birthday, wouldn’t have known much of his bizarre opener, but young gun, Jonathan David was in no doubt about his at the death, sprinting clear and coolly, clinically, sealing the deal.
Sometimes you need to have the ability to win ugly or grind out a result. This is what we saw last night. It’s been a gruelling three games in quick succession, including three long trips to and from central America.
Add to that the contrast in climactic conditions and the fact Canada’s MLS-based players are not even in season, you can excuse Les Rouges for not hitting the heights in Estadio Cuscatlan. Result was all-important and once again, they got it right.
Credit too, John Herdman for his triple change between minutes 57 and 58. His team were labouring. On came Buchanan, Larin and Johnston and Canada’s counter-attacking threat was restored. Eight minutes later the first goal arrived.
Made in Istanbul, Besiktas to be exact, it’s unorthodoxy was worthy of note. Larin provided the power down the right, stumbled, regained balance and crossed for Hutchinson, who’d made a gut-busting dart into the area. The ball cannoned off the post, hit defender Eriq Zavaleta and arched into the net off Hutchinson’s head, not two feet from the ground. Salvadoran goalkeeper Carabantes was left clutching and groping at thin air, the ball unable to be clawed back.
David’s brilliance in the third minute of added time did the rest. The Lille striker has had a good window, two goals and a major contribution against the US; you wonder if his French employers can retain him beyond summertime.
Such has been Canada’s resolve and consistency throughout this Octagonal (last night’s was an unprecedented sixth-win-in-a-row at the highest level of Concacaf international football), getting out of the group stage at the finals in Qatar simply has to be the new target.
John Herdman may not thank me for upping the ante like that, but with growing expectation the same realization must already have dawned on him. He’d be justified in being quietly confident.
At his disposal is a rather special collection of players, who will be aware of World Cup finals progress made by the US and Mexico in the past. Why not Canada now?
SLV: Carabantes - Tamales, Dominguez, Zavaleta, Gomez, Roldan (W Martinez, 80) - Henriquez (Hernandez, 68), Ceren (Monterrosa, 76), Orellana (C Martinez, 76), Calvillo (Rivas, 68) - Bonilla
CAN: Borjan - Laryea (Brault-Guillard, 83), Henry, Kennedy, Adekugbe - Hutchinson, Eustaquio (Kaye, 80), Millar (Larin, 58) - Hoilett (Johnston, 58), David, Osorio (Buchanan, 57)
Match Officials -
Referee: Armando Villareal (USA)
Asst Refs: Ian Anderson (USA), Logan Brown (USA)
4th Official: Reon Radix (GRD)
VAR: Chris Penso (USA)
Asst VAR: Allen Chapman (USA)
Standings with three rounds of matches left. Top three qualify automatically. The fourth placed team meets the winners of the Oceania Zone in a two-legged play-off for qualification.
Should Canada win in Costa Rica on 24 March their second-ever World Cup qualification will be secured... Avoiding defeat in that game will also be enough should Panama not defeat Honduras.