The Canadian men’s team got their Concacaf Nations League campaign off to a good start with a 4-0 win over Curaçao Thursday night in Vancouver.
The match came at the end of a turbulent three weeks for the national men’s team. A friendly match scheduled for June 5 versus Iran was cancelled, following public and political opposition to the game. A replacement match versus Panama on the same day was then also cancelled when the Canadian players walked out two hours before kickoff, protesting against Canada Soccer with whom the players are currently in contract negotiations.
But despite the off field issues and taking to BC Place in front of a smaller crowd than expected, the men were able to deliver an excellent performance.
“It’s something that we do that we love,” said defender Alistair Johnston post-game. “There’s nothing better than putting on the jersey, representing your country.”
Canada dominates first half
Canada had their chances early pressing for the opening goal. Tajon Buchanan and Alphonso Davies, who was making his first appearance in Vancouver since departing for Bayern Munich, were heavily involved early on with play focusing down both flanks.
“I think you’ve seen it with both Alphonso (Davies) and Tajon (Buchanan), their movements are freeing Johnny (David) up, freeing Cyle (Larin) up, getting Sam Adekugbe a release,” manager John Herdman said about his two wingers. “Sometimes what they do off the ball is more important than what you see.”
With Curaçao on the back foot, it was only a matter of time before the first breakthrough happened. Davies’ fancy footwork in the box got a defender to bite, sending him to the spot in the 27th minute. The star man made no mistake as he buried the spot kick in the bottom left corner.
Canada’s tactical swapping of Buchanan and Davies would pay off later in the half. As Buchanan dashed down the left, the Club Brugge forward cut in and sent a curling shot far post, one that forced an excellent save from the keeper. Off the ensuing corner in the 42nd minute, Davies’ inswinging delivery was mishandled by the keeper Eloy Room. David pounced on the chance, sending it off Steven Vitoria’s head and into the back of the net.
The first half came to an end with Canada finding their flow, taking control of the game with a 2-0 lead under their belt. They held the possession advantage at 68%-32% and looked no worse for wear.
Davies scores his second on homecoming
However, the second half started quite timidly from the Canadians. Curaçao managed to find a foothold in the game as the pace slowed down to the visitor’s preference. They struggled for fitness, something that manager Art Langeler explained in the press conference.
Curacao manager Art Langeler mentions that his side had 24 hours to travel and that most of his side was dealing with a stomach bug.#CanMNT
— Michael Liu (@Mike_Liu14) June 10, 2022
The Canadian defence was tested for the first time in the match. A goalmouth scramble in the 57th minute just barely deflected the ball upwards, and Vitoria’s last-second slide was the only factor that broke up a Curaçao break.
Herdman responded with three changes, bringing Samuel Piette, Junior Hoilett, and Ritchie Laryea on for Atiba Hutchinson, Larin and David in the 66th. The changes seemed to spark the Canadians as Davies would spring forth again, playing a wonderful one-two with Laryea to score his second of the match.
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 10, 2022
“It felt good to come back to a BC Place after so many years,” Davies said after the match. “I’m excited and happy to be out here playing with the [national]team and happy to score two goals.”
It would be a curtain call not long after that tally, as Davies was substituted in the 76th minute to a hero’s exit. Ike Ugbo and Lucas Cavallini came on for him and Buchanan. Davies’ return to the national team was nothing short of dominant.
Alphonso Davies in his return to BC Place tonight with the #CanMNT:
-4 shots (1.39 xG)
-3 key passes (0.26 xA)
-14 duels contested (71.4% won)
-2 fouls won
He was UP for this one…
— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) June 10, 2022
With the subs on the pitch, Canada continued to press forwards, looking to add another goal with plenty of excellent build up play. It would take until the 85th minute for it to bear fruit, as former Whitecap Adekugbe set up an absolute sitter for current Whitecap Cavallini, making the score 4-0 for the hosts.
The fulltime whistle blew as the 17,216 strong crowd gave a proper cheer for the team they waited over three years to see. Sunday’s protest denied them an opportunity to catch them in action, something Johnston addressed.
“Those fans deserved it, we put them through a bit of a ringer this week, we know how difficult that is,” he said when asked about the Panama fixture. “Getting out there and finally being able to play in front of that Vancouver crowd was something that really meant a lot to us, especially the guys who are from here, like myself.”
Canada’s victory against Curaçao puts them first in their Nations League group on goal differential. They are scheduled to play next away in Honduras on June 13th.