Canada moved to within touching distance of qualifying for World Cup 2022 Qatar with a 2-0 win over El Salvador in San Salvador Wednesday.
And despite Canada’s history of struggling in Central America, head coach John Herdman was always confident his side would triumph at Estadio Cuscatlán, even circling the fixture as a must-win match before this round of qualifying began.
“This was a place where it was difficult,” admitted Herdman after the match. “You got that sense on the arrival. But it was great. It’s part of the adventure.”
And while Canada is all but assured of qualifying for Qatar in the next international window in March, coach John Herdman admits he and his leadership group have loftier ambitions than just reaching the World Cup though he didn’t elaborate.
“For us internally, we’ve got some really clear goals we’re laser focused on,” he said. “And we’re on track to really set ourselves up as ‘New Canada’. And as the players said, put the world on notice.”
Canada edges scrappy, goalless first half
Both sides wrestled for control early in the first half. El Salvador was fighting for their World Cup lives and tried to go toe-to-toe with the Concacaf table leaders.
But it was the Canadians who had the first true opportunity to score when Jonathan David forced a good save from El Salvadoran keeper Kevin Carabantes in the 19th minute.
Two minutes later Stephen Eustáquio tested Carabantes with a free kick from distance – the keeper pushing the FC Porto midfielder’s effort over the bar.
And the El Salvador keeper made it a hat trick of saves when he tipped a Junior Hoillet free kick around the post in the 25th minute.
The rest of first half continued in a scrappy pattern, with the hosts, in particular, producing some heavy, card-worthy challenges, and with neither side carving out anymore clear cut opportunities.
“I thought the team was excellent,” said Herdman. “We started strong. We fell into their chaos for a period of time. And then we finished strong.”
Canada earns bizarre goal
Herdman wasted little time in changing things after halftime, bringing on forward Cyle Larin, winger Tajon Buchanan and fullback Alistair Johnston for Junior Hoillet, Jonathan Osorio and Liam Millar in the 57th minute.
El Salvador had a decent penalty shout in the 64th minute when Buchanan possibly took down Bryan Tamacas in the box. But referee Armando Villarreal waved play on.
And Canada would soon benefit.
There was a comedic element to the game’s first goal when it came in the 66th minute.
Cyle Larin found some space on the right wing and delivered a cross to Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson who directed a diving header on to the post. The ball then ricocheted off an El Salvador defender, before bouncing of the back Hutchinson’s head and then looping over a befuddled Carabantes who was left waving at air.
“(I) didn’t know much about it to be honest,” chuckled Hutchinson after the game. “I think I got a touch. It hit off the post. And then after that I don’t know what happened.
“Obviously a very lucky goal. But it crossed the line. And in football sometimes you need that luck.”
Canadian keeper Milan Borjan wasn’t truly tested until two minutes into stoppage time when he tipped a long-range effort over the bar.
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And Jonathan David capped off a professional Canadian performance with his 20th international goal in the 94th minute. The Lille OSC won the ball in his own half and sprinted 40 yards to lob a Carabantes from just outside the penalty area.
“That was the plan: start strong, finish strong,” said Herdman. “We know we had the quality on the bench to come in and just finish the game off. It was a great night for us.”
Up next for Canada
The Canadians will reconvene when they see out Concacaf World Cup qualifying in just under two months. Canada first visits Costa Rica March 24, before return home to host Jamaica March 27. They will then travel to Panama to wrap up the final round of qualifying March 30. Though, John Herdman and his players will expect to have booked their ticket to Qatar before their final match.
“We’ll end this night in a good position,” said Herdman. “Three more steps. And getting ready to come back at it in five weeks time.
“We got to stay humble though. We’re not there yet.”
CONCACAF World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying final round
P=progressed to inter-continental playoff
Updated March 30 2022