The Canucks’ Gold Cup adventure ended at the 99th minute of the semifinal, but Canada takes away a lot of positives ahead of the ultimate prize: 2022 World Cup qualification.
Austin, Texas. 99th minute. David Pizarro penetrates the soft side of the Canadian box and squares across for Hector Herrera who slides the ball low, under Canadian keeper Maxime Crepeau. This, the final act of the Canadian Gold Cup 2021 ends what many thought would amount to only an opportunity to give some new players some minutes. It was more than that.
After defeating Martinique (4-1) and Haiti (4-1), John Herdman’s men were tested by the United States whom, after opening the scoring in only 20 seconds, were unable to produce truly dangerous chances. Canada on the other hand held their own but were unable to score despite creating some scoring chances.
The quarter-final match against Costa Rica was telling of how much Herdman’s Canadian men’s national team has matured. Costa Rica, 50th ranked by FIFA, is one of the teams that Canada (70th ranked) will have to beat in the Octagonal Round if they want to gain a berth for Qatar 2022.
Canadian fans looked on in awe as their team responded to the test brilliantly: first, Junior Hoilett lobs over Costa Rica’s goalkeeper a beautiful ball sent on by Stephen Eustaquio (18th minute), then the latter doubles the lead by taking advantage of an unlucky ricochet in the Costa Rican box. More significant than the result itself is that Canada responded to the challenge and never looked uncomfortable, were always in control, allowing little other than some forays late in the game.
The match against Mexico as challenging as it was for a team that was missing a lot of firepower in Jonathan David, Atiba Hutchinson, Scott Arfield (technical decision); Alphonso Davies, Cyle Larin, Ayo Akinola (injury); Steven Vitoria and Lucas Cavallini (suspension); was a great litmus test (as was the performance during the entire tournament) of the state of the Canadian men’s national team.
The Canadians were, for a large part of the match, the better team perhaps lacking in international inexperience as the two penalties that were called in El Tri’s favour: both of which were the fruit of naïve tackles by Doneil Henry and Anthony Kaye, respectively.
It should be noted, the second penalty, awarded minutes after Tajon Buchanan’s goal (that topped off a blistering run), was saved brilliantly by Crepeau to keep the Canadian momentum high. In spite of this, and of yet another shameful chant by some Mexico fans in attendance, El Tri advanced on the night with a goal that was scored thanks to the delay caused by the aforementioned offensive chant.
“It has been a special tournament for these guys and there is a deep connection that runs through this group and that moment is going to set them up for the future and that is a foundation laid,” said Herdman after the match. “There was a belief that they were going to give everything out there for each other and they did, and I am absolutely proud.
We played with no fear tonight. We had a clear game plan and that spirit and fight for each other. When it is there, it is special and I think you saw that tonight and that Canadian grit and resilience, but, also more and that is what we wanted to show tonight, that we can play, and we can go toe to toe with the best in CONCACAF.”
This Gold Cup ends at the semifinal but can be considered a win in that it saw the debut to young Ayo Akinola and to Houston’s Tyler Pasher, saw Crepeau rise as the heir apparent to Milan Borjan between the sticks, consolidated Richie Laryea position on the right, and brought to the fore Buchanan as a terror for any opponent.
Above all, this tournament proved that this team is battle-tested and has the swagger, the technical and physical ability, as well as the confidence to place it, dare I say, among the candidates to gain one of the three direct berths to Qatar 2022.
By: Rocco Fasano / @CatenaccioNA
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Peter G. Aiken / Getty Images / Andy Jacobsohn / AFP