Concacaf Gold Cup -- Quarter-Finals Final Score: Canada 2-0 Costa Rica Goalscorers: Hoilett (18'), Eustáquio (68')
Match in a minute or lessIn perhaps one of the finest performances we've seen from this Canadian men's national team, Les Rouges advanced to the Gold Cup semi-final on Sunday night with an ascendant 2-0 triumph over Group C winners Costa Rica. Canada started on the front foot and, for the most part, stayed there; they found the scoresheet first in the 18th minute with a gorgeous ball over the top from Stephen Eustáquio that bounced for a perfect flick over the goalkeeper from Junior Hoilett. After continuing to dominate for heavy stretches of the game, Canada next found the net in the 68th minute, as Eustáquio himself drifted alone near the back post and buried a ball deflected off a Costa Rican defender. Overall, Canada saw out this game very professionally and secured their first knockout round victory in the Gold Cup since 2007. John Herdman and co. will be frustrated with yellow cards to Steven Vitória and Lucas Cavallini -- both of whom will now miss the semi-final due to suspension -- but otherwise, a statement victory from the surging Canadians.
Three ObservationsHoilett steps up in massive opportunity With this week's news that Cyle Larin and Ayo Akinola will miss the rest of the Gold Cup with long-term injuries, pressure very quickly began to mount on the shoulders of Canada's remaining attackers. Junior Hoilett, no longer a nailed-on starter in full-strength Canada teams at the moment, is one of the players who was called upon to step up. Hoilett seized his opportunity with both hands in this game, looking like one of Canada's most lively players in attack. He dropped deep at times to create, but he always had an eye for a run in behind. With Tajon Buchanan often playing off Hoilett's shoulder, the veteran combined very well along the right side with his teammate. John Herdman was succinct in his praise for the veteran attacker: "What a performance from that man tonight. What a real senior performance." Though perhaps slightly overshadowed by the masterclass from Eustáquio, Hoilett's role in this match and his individual performance cannot be overlooked. He scored the winning goal, of course -- a tremendous finish -- but even aside from that, Hoilett felt like the main outlet for Canada through most of the first half. As things wore on a bit, Hoilett began to tire and ultimately came out of the game in a stretch where Tajon Buchanan was beginning to take over as the dominant forward presence, but his ability to get into the right spaces between Costa Rica's right-back and centre-backs proved extremely dangerous to Los Ticos. With Cavallini now suspended for the semi-final, Hoilett will need to shoulder even more of the burden for this Canadian team. With clubs around the world surely watching the free agent attacker, it seems that Hoilett is embracing the chance to be a primary outlet. Midfield duo Eustáquio and Kaye deliver sparkling, fluid performance In the group stage match against the U.S., Canada had a strong presence in midfield, but they were missing the creative link after winning possession. This time around, John Herdman turned that around completely, putting out a midfield three of Mark-Anthony Kaye, Stephen Eustáquio, and Jonathan Osorio. Across the board, the midfield was exceptional for Canada out of the gates. Eustáquio and Kaye, afforded far too much space by their Costa Rican counterparts, happily drifted in and out of various pockets around the middle looking for the ball, and they generally dictated the pace entirely with their passing. When one player pushed forward, the other filled the space they'd left behind -- indeed, that happened leading up to Canada's first goal, as Eustáquio dropped into the backline to receive a pass before sending it forward. It was Eustáquio's incredible vision that found Junior Hoilett with the long ball over the top, and although that was an individual moment of magic from two players, it's still indicative of how dangerous this Canadian team can be with someone of Eustáquio's calibre at the base of midfield. A number of times Eustáquio found himself in possession at the edge of the attacking third, and the game seemed to slow down in front of him -- such was the level at which he was seeing this game. Usually, he would pick out Hoilett or Lucas Cavallini with a through ball or touch into the half channels, but a couple of times he opted to go for goal, and it never felt like the wrong decision. "(Eustáquio) has an opportunity to be part of a group of men that changes the country forever," Herdman said of his midfield maestro's commitment to the national team. "That's what motivates him, and you see that in his play. The intensity he plays with, the desire, the passion. Everything we want this football country to be moving forward. He's not just a fighter, he's got that quality as well, and precision. He's really stepped up in this tournament, his free kick goal, and tonight was just one of those really controlling games from Stephen Eustáquio." Eustáquio, as well as Kaye and Osorio, deserve no end of credit for how well they played on a night where Canada looked perhaps as fluid as we've ever seen them. Canada fitter, more in-sync out of the gate; in control for 90 minutes It seems a full week of preparation heading into this game did Canada a world of good. Right from the kickoff, they looked far more comfortable both in and out of possession than Los Ticos. Tactically, Canada entered with a well-drilled system that seemed to meld freely between a 4-3-3 in attack and a 3-4-3 out of possession, with Tajon Buchanan afforded more freedom to get forward and cut in, often from an inverted right-sided position. Overall, Canada just seemed to have a more defined tactical plan for this match, and their energy from the first minute onward seemed to catch a flat-footed Costa Rica by surprise a bit. Those who have watched the Canadian men's national team over the years have certainly not come to expect those sorts of performances "We just managed Costa Rica in a way that was important for this team to show," Herdman told reporters postmatch. "Number one, their tactical awareness, and number two, that brotherhood, which you've seen in them pressing Costa Rica for almost 70-plus minutes. That's not an easy thing, to build the mentality to do that, as well as the bravery to commit that every man is going to be on the front foot." It's hard to overstate just how clinical Canada's performance was in this quarter-final. They absorbed pressure when they needed to, and they were happy to let Costa Rica have the majority of possession without allowing them close to goal. Unlike the match against the United States -- which saw the U.S. back off with a lead and allow Canada to attack -- Canada never seemed overrun or out of control in this game. Costa Rica never seriously threatened the Canadian goal, with zero shots on target and just four attempted shots on the night. If recent performances against Haiti and the United States made the rest of Concacaf start paying attention to Canada, this win made the other teams in the conference sit bolt upright. With a showing like that despite so many key pieces missing, this Canada side will be brimming with confidence heading into World Cup qualification -- no matter the result on Thursday against Mexico.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchStephen Eustáquio, Canada By some margin, too. Eustáquio played his best-ever game in a Canada shirt (and perhaps any other) on Sunday, taking full control of the contest from midfield and contributing on the scoresheet with a goal and an assist. CanPL.ca's own Kristian Jack said it best:
What’s next?Canada will play in their first Gold Cup semi-final since 2007 this week when they take on Mexico this Thursday (10 pm ET) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. All matches are available on OneSoccer.