Concacaf Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament — Match #12 Honduras vs. Canada March 25, 2021 at 10:00 p.m. ET Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca
As we all expected, it's all come down to the final matchday at the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament. Canada's under-23s will meet Honduras on Thursday night, with the two teams sitting level at the top of Group B with four points each. Both sides could secure their spot in the knockout round with a win in this game, but the real prize will be first place in the four-team group. On Monday night, the Canadians played out a fairly toothless 0-0 draw with Haiti, which saw the two sides exchange chances (a few of which might well have broken the deadlock, were it not for some spectacular goalkeeping). After confidently dispatching El Salvador in their first game, Canada wasn't quite as dangerous the second time around. Honduras, meanwhile, is in a similar boat. They won their opening match 3-0 over a heavily shorthanded Haiti, and they then settled for a 1-1 draw with El Salvador to put them equal with Canada. This winner-take-all group stage finale will settle the knockout round bracket, with semifinals (both of which will grant the winner direct qualification to this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo) to come on Sunday evening. Canada is hoping to return to the Olympic tournament for the first time since 1984 in Los Angeles, while Honduras looks to qualify for the second consecutive time.
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5 THINGS TO KNOW
- First place on the line: Only two teams from the eight-team Concacaf tournament will qualify for the Olympics, which means that the two semifinal winners are headed to Tokyo. The winner of Group B (either Canada or Honduras) will take on the second-place team from Group A, and vice versa. Canada would secure the top spot with a win, and a draw would ensure Canada finishes second, since Honduras has a slightly better goal differential. Theoretically, both El Salvador and Haiti are still alive with one point apiece, but by the time Canada and Honduras kick off the other Group B result will be settled. Essentially, if either team wins this final match, they'll win the group.
- What to expect from Honduras: This has always been circled as the most difficult test for Canada at this tournament. The Hondurans were runners-up four years ago at the previous Olympic qualifiers (and they finished fourth at the actual Olympic tournament), and they've always posed a stiff challenge to Canada, whether at the youth or senior level. This year, they have a number of experienced professional players in the squad, including a couple with caps for the Honduras senior national team. Forward Darixon Vuelto, who scored twice against Haiti, has over 100 pro games in his home country, and Douglas Martínez has been solid for MLS side Real Salt Lake recently. This team has plenty of firepower and most of their players will have better match fitness than the Canadians, so expect them to try and wear their opponents down with a fast-paced style.
- Coping with tired legs: It was clear during Canada's game against Haiti that the players were struggling with fatigue, with many of them having not played in several months. Against a Honduras team that's likely to play faster than the Haitians, Canadian coach Mauro Biello will need to find a way to counteract that issue. That could mean one or two players being rotated in or out of the starting 11 -- Ballou Tabla, with his pace and skill, may draw back in -- or it might mean turning to the bench earlier. Biello has plenty of options on his bench that have done reasonably well in half-hour shifts so far, like Ryan Raposo, plus some (like Cavalry FC's Mo Farsi) who may be able to provide more given a more extended look. Canada's game management will, of course, depend on how things are going -- an early deficit will mean injecting energy when it's needed, and an early lead will warrant a more defensive look.
- Discipline is essential: After the first game against El Salvador, a few of Canada's key players have had to toe the line with regard to discipline. Currently, four Canadians -- Ballou Tabla, Derek Cornelius, Lucas Dias, and Aidan Daniels have received a yellow card, and if any of them were to pick up another caution against Honduras, they would be suspended for the semi-final. For Honduras, that risk extends only to defender Wesly Decas and midfielder Kervin Arriaga. The Canadian team has, at times, been liable to give away cheap fouls and dangerous areas in the past two games, so they'll have to be careful not to get sucked into any extracurriculars. The players with a yellow card on their record have to be especially cautious; losing captain and key defender Cornelius would be a particularly major blow.
- Canada's spotless defensive record: Through 180 minutes, Canada has yet to allow a goal at this tournament. Three of the back four -- Marcus Godinho, Derek Cornelius, and Zachary Brault-Guillard -- have remained the same in both starting lineups, with Cavalry FC's David Norman Jr. (despite being a natural midfielder) stepping in to replace the injured Callum Montgomery against Haiti. In goal, James Pantemis has been note-perfect so far, making a few outstanding saves in the last game to keep Canada alive. It's imperative that the defence remains a strength against Honduras, who will pose the most dangerous attacking threat Canada has yet faced in Guadalajara.