The Canadian men's under-23 team completed its Concacaf Olympic Qualifying group stage schedule on Thursday night, playing out a 1-1 draw against Honduras in Guadalajara, Mexico. With the draw, Canada will officially finish second in Group B and advance to the semifinals on Sunday afternoon, where they'll play host nation Mexico (winners of Group A) for a berth in the Tokyo Olympics. A loss to the Mexicans means Canada's lengthy Olympic drought will continue. "This will be a big challenge for us (vs. Mexico), but the way this team has been fighting, the way this team has been playing defensively – we haven’t given up a goal in the run of play in the tournament – I think we can build off stuff like that," Canadian coach Mauro Biello told reporters after the game. Biello made two changes from his starting 11 in the previous match against Haiti, with Zorhan Bassong and Ballou Tabla coming into the squad in favour of Charles-Andreas Brym and Aidan Daniels. The first half began with Honduras playing on the front foot, as they cycled the ball around midfield while Canada sat low and forced their opponents toward the outside. After absorbing a few waves of attack, though, the Canadians began to open up a little. In the 28th minute, after pushing forward for a few minutes, Canada won a long free kick out on the right flank. Patrick Metcalfe swung a perfect ball into the box, and captain Derek Cornelius found it with a diving header to put Canada up 1-0. The lead was short-lived, though. Just two minutes later, Honduras came back the other way and earned a long-range free kick of their own. Mirroring his opposing counterpart, Honduran captain Denil Maldonado rose above the defenders and headed in an equalizer. The second half was similarly fast-paced in the beginning, with Honduras coming achingly close on several occasions and causing concern for Canada's backline. Going the other way, Canada managed to generate a decent move of their own with Michael Baldisimo and Zorhan Bassong cutting through the midfield in tandem. Honduras was in control for most of the second half, pinning Canada back and throwing a few decent attempts on goal, as the Canadians searched for a counter-attack. Neither team ultimately managed to find the winner, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Canada did have a concerning moment around the 73rd minute, when Derek Cornelius pulled up hurt after a challenge. Biello was forced to bring in 18-year-old Lucas Dias to replace the injured captain for the final 20 minutes. Biello said Cornelius would be re-evaluated on Friday top determine the extent of the injury and whether he'll be able to play in the semifinals. Dias had a positive impact on the match, with a couple of sizzling runs through midfield, but ultimately neither he nor Canada's other substitutes -- including Cavalry FC's Mo Farsi -- could provide the spark needed for a winning goal. "The first half was a solid performance. There were some good things – our shape was good. … You saw us in the second half, maybe we were a little bit running on fumes in terms of our fitness," Biello said.
RELATED READING: Canada under-23s report card: Cornelius leads by example vs. Honduras
BOX SCOREGoals 28' – Derek Cornelius (Canada) 30' – Denil Maldonado (Honduras) Discipline 67' – Yellow: Kervin Arriaga (Honduras) 68' – Yellow: Patrick Metcalfe (Canada)
- Canada's under-23s are now 0-4-2 all-time against Honduras, having met most recently in 2004 (a 1-0 loss for Canada). The previous draw was a 2-2 result in 1992.
- There are three CPL players on Canada’s 20-man roster: midfielder David Norman Jr. (Cavalry FC), and fullbacks Mo Farsi (Cavalry FC) and Diyaeddine Abzi (York United FC). Both Norman Jr. and Farsi came on as second-half substitutes in the win over El Salvador, as they became the first CPLers to play in a competitive game for Canada at any level. Norman Jr. also started at centre-back against both Haiti and Honduras.
- Canada now moves on to the semifinals this Sunday against Mexico. The winner of that match will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The last time Canada participated at the Summer Games was in 1984 in Los Angeles when it reached the quarter-finals.
- Mexico defeated the U.S. 1-0 on Wednesday night in Group A to secure first place over the Americans, while Costa Rica beat the Dominican Republic 5-0 to finish third. In other Group B action, El Salvador defeated Haiti 2-1 on Thursday evening, meaning they'll also finish third.