The Canadian under-23 team’s hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics received a major boost on Friday. Canada earned a 2-0 win over El Salvador at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico in its opening Group B match at the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, taking a big first step towards booking a spot in Tokyo this summer. New England Revolution forward Tajon Buchanan put in a man-of-the-match effort by bagging a pair of first-half goals for a Canadian side that is looking to claim one of two Olympic berths on offer at this competition. It was an amazing performance for Buchanan, a 22-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., who came into this game with no international experience for Canada under his belt at any age level. Buchanan’s brace was the 12th by a Canadian under-23 player in Olympic qualifying, and the first since Tosaint Ricketts in 2008. Canadian coach Mauro Biello lauded Buchanan for his hard work off the ball and for tracking back defensively, as well as for his goalscoring prowess against El Salvador. "He had a good season last year in New England and came into camp with the men's (senior) team in January and showed his qualities. Today he was focused to show what he could do and he was able to get those two great goals," Biello told reporters after the game. Honduras beat Haiti 3-0 in Friday’s other match. Canada and Honduras are tied for first place in Group B with three points apiece. Finishing first in the group is important at this tournament, as it likely means avoiding host nation Mexico in the semifinals – only the semifinal winners qualify for the Olympics. Biello said he was happy with the result and very proud of the way his team fought, but maintained there was still work to do and room for improvement. "We've got to find those little gaps and exploit them in midfield; we want to attract them to eliminate them," Biello said. He later added: "We had one and a half (training) sessions in building out of the back, and there were some bumps there. I think we're going to continue and improve that." Despite some first-half turnovers by Canada, El Salvador didn’t create much from open play. Canada looked very lively on the counter-attack with Buchanan serving as the main reference point and midfielder Michael Baldisimo pulling the creative strings. The Canadians also did well to quickly work the ball out wide when El Salvador overloaded the wings. A chippy and physical start gave way to a brilliant opening goal in the 17th minute via a swift Canadian attack. Buchanan took a pass from Ballou Tabla on the edge of the box and then blew by an El Salvador defender with a lovely stepover move before firing a left-footed shot through the legs of the goalkeeper. Buchanan added a second goal just four minutes later, hitting a beautiful curler from 20 yards out that nestled inside the post after El Salvador couldn’t clear its lines off a free kick played into the box. Aidan Daniels had a chance to make it 3-0, only to see his hard blast from inside the box hit the post. Canadian goalkeeper James Pantemis, who spent the 2020 CPL season on loan with Valour FC, was kept busy late in the half and he was required to make a smart kick save after El Salvador pounced on a giveaway. Cavalry FC midfielder David Norman Jr. was subbed into the game to start of the second half, and partnered captain Derek Cornelius in the heart of the Canadian defence. In doing so, Norman Jr. made history by becoming the first CPLer to play a competitive game for Canada at any level. Cavalry fullback Mo Farsi was subbed on by Canada in the 84th minute. Buchanan turned playmaker in the 50th minute when he played a perfect ball across the box to the back post for Ballou Tabla, only to see El Salvador’s Mario González come up with a huge save. Lucas Dias, an 18-year-old midfielder, subbed on in the 72nd minute and added some dynamism to the attack, as Canada comfortably held on for the win.
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BOX SCOREGoals 17’ – Tajon Buchanan (Canada) 21’ – Tajon Buchanan (Canada) Discipline 5’ – Yellow: Ballou Tabla (Canada) 45’+2 – Yellow: Derek Cornelius (Canada) 49’ – Yellow: José Villalobos (El Salvador) 54’ – Yellow: Mario González (El Salvador) 81’ – Yellow: Lucas Dias (Canada) 83’ – Yellow: Ronald Gómez (El Salvador)
- Canada leads the all-time series vs. El Salvador in Olympic qualifying with four wins and two draws in seven meetings.
- Mo Farsi of Cavalry FC and York United FC’s Diyaeddine Abzi were named to Canada’s 20-man roster on Friday morning. They replaced Pacific FC defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and winger Kris Twardek of Polish club Jagiellonia Białystok, who were both ruled out for the tournament due to medical reasons.
- There are three CPL players on Canada’s 20-man roster: midfielder David Norman Jr. (Cavalry FC), Farsi (Cavalry FC) and Abzi (York United FC). Norman Jr. has represented Canada at the U-15 and U-17 levels, and with Canada’s U-23 side that featured in the 2018 Toulon Tournament. He is also the son of former Canadian international David Norman Sr.
- Canada returns to Group B action when it faces Haiti on March 22 and Honduras on March 25. Group A consists of Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Canada must finish in the top two in Group B in order to advance to the semifinals on March 28, with only the two tournament finalists qualifying 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 thumped the Dominican Republic 4-1, and the U.S beat Costa Rica 1-0 in Group A play on Thursday on the opening day of the tournament.