FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Final Score: Canada 1-0 Costa Rica Goalscorers: David 57'
Match in a minute or lessThe Canadian men's national team put another three valuable points in the bank on Friday night at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, as they topped Costa Rica by a 1-0 scoreline to remain in third place in this final round of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying -- and in position to qualify for Qatar 2022. After a cagey first half, Canada found their breakthrough in front of nearly 48,000 fans just over 10 minutes into the second frame, as Jonathan David pounced on a cross the goalkeeper fumbled and finished to give the hosts the goal they needed. From there, Canada had a number of good chances to increase their lead, but ultimately they didn't need more than one as they held Los Ticos off the scoresheet. Canada also saw a debut off the bench for recent recruit Ike Ugbo, who played the final 10 minutes or so. Plus, special recognition is due to Atiba Hutchinson, who earned his 89th senior cap for Les Rouges to move into a tie with Julian De Guzman for first on the all-time men's appearances list.
Herdman shuffles formation to maximize attacking optionsThe starting XI for Canada in this game had a few surprises in it, with Alistair Johnston and Jonathan Osorio dropping out of the side in favour of Sam Adekugbe and Liam Millar, who slotted in at left fullback and left wing, respectively. Changing things up from recent games, John Herdman arranged his side in a fairly straightforward 4-4-2 formation with wingers in Millar and Tajon Buchanan who could drive high up the pitch while fullbacks Adekugbe and Richie Laryea worked tirelessly in defence to stay on top of Costa Rica's wide attackers. With Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David playing together in a front two, Canada managed to get a strong diversity of attacking options onto the pitch -- even though Cyle Larin wasn't quite fit enough to start. Of course, to get that dynamic front four on the pitch at the same time, Herdman had to sacrifice a man in midfield by dropping Osorio. At times, that seemed to be a problem for Canada, who were noticeably lacking a strong link between their central midfielders and attackers; Mark-Anthony Kaye and Stephen Eustáquio both played quite deep to cover for the height of the wide midfielders, both of them occasionally even dropping between the centre-backs to help the build-up play. "The reality around the midfield was, you're trying to break a deep block on a turf field," Herdman said postmatch. "We were good in the first 20 minutes, and we started to get a little bit stuck, we got involved in some of that dark arts, these little fouls, slowing the game down, and then we just lost momentum and rhythm. I didn't think the balance was too much of an issue, the issue for me was the forwards finding their rhythm and loading the line. They were playing quite individually at times in that first half after the first 20 minutes, they lost their rhythm, and I think after halftime we made it clear they had to load that line. The threat level by just positioning creates a massive threat to that back four, and then it opened more space for the Sam Adekugbes, the Richie Laryeas wide. "Then they started moving, and when they start moving, that front four, they start connecting together, that's a special group of players. So we're really happy with that, the possession was decent and that was a stubborn Costa Rican team that has been training for 10 days in its own country preparing for this match." Herdman's choice to throw that lineup curveball at Costa Rica may be linked to that lengthy preparation time Los Ticos spent at home in the past week (their domestic league paused on November 1). From minute one, Canada's intention to play on the front foot was evident; they ate up possession and occupied the space Costa Rica did give them, and tried to play methodically with their pressure and build-up play through a low block. Canada actually did quite well threading passes between lines -- Kaye and Eustáquio in particular had a few passes that split the Costa Rican block apart, although they had so many players behind the ball that the players receiving the pass still couldn't get very free. The front four really came alive in the first 20 minutes of the second half, before the likes of Cyle Larin and Ike Ugbo came in as substitutes. Buchanan was excellent driving at defenders, as was Davies, and of course it was David showing off his striker's instinct to get under a cross and pick up the loose ball that led to Canada's goal.
Canada prove ability to grind out win after difficult startThis match wasn't quite the masterclass in fluid football that Canada displayed in past games against Panama or El Salvador -- or even Mexico. With the frigid conditions and the slow turf pitch, neither side was able to move very quickly in transition, which arguably played into Costa Rica's hands somewhat. Across the board, this one was difficult. In the first half, Canada weren't able to find much space in the wide areas -- or anywhere, really -- because Costa Rica applied good pressure with their fullbacks and midfielders. Los Ticos defended in a well-drilled 4-5-1 and didn't often press very high, choosing rather to stay in their lines and try to smother players running with the ball. It wasn't at all pretty in the first 45 minutes -- Canada did seem to suffer from some nerves at times, Alphonso Davies included -- but they were never shaken, really. This did feel like a game where Canada might need an ugly goal -- Tajon Buchanan's bicycle kick off the crossbar notwithstanding -- to really break it open and force Costa Rica to open up more, and that's essentially what happened (although they didn't end up finishing any of the myriad chances they created after the first goal). John Herdman was very complimentary of Costa Rica's ability to make things difficult for Canada in the first half. They managed to make a very talented attacking team look quite disjointed and isolated, slowing them down in any way possible -- including a healthy dose of strategic fouling to take away any momentum or rhythm. "That was a tough match," Herdman said. "Costa Rica had a very clear plan, and the fans, they stayed with us. They got us through." Herdman explained that his side definitely needed the halftime break to reset and go back to the game plan, but he also pointed out that the 48,000-strong crowd at Commonwealth Stadium certainly had an effect in keeping Canada's spirits high despite being continually frustrated in attack.
Flawless defending leaves Costa Rican attack lifelessThe statistics paint a picture of just how little Canada gave their opponents in this game. Costa Rica put just one of their seven shots on target (and it drew a good save out of Milan Borjan, to be fair); they had 38% possession, and their pass accuracy was an abysmal 64.2%. The Canadians, aside from that one Borjan save, were never really threatened by the visitors despite the pedigree and talent of Costa Rica's attackers -- like former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell, or clinical Herediano forward José Guillermo Ortiz. With Canada pushing forward so much in both halves, they naturally gave the ball away a couple times to give Los Ticos opportunities to counter-attack, but the Canadian defenders were individually unflappable; Kamal Miller put his strength to good use holding off the Costa Rican forwards and preventing them from getting onto balls sent in over the top, and fullbacks Richie Laryea and Sam Adekugbe were able to match any winger for pace to get to loose balls first, or make timely tackles when necessary. The Canadians were definitely a much faster team than Costa Rica, who were punished severely for their lack of movement with the ball; their passes were quite easy for Canada to read and pick off. Though Canada might have lost a little of its transitional game and link-up with Eustáquio and Kaye dropping deep, both players were key to breaking up Costa Rica's transition as well. The star of it all, though, was Adekugbe. The Calgary native delivered perhaps his best performance for Canada so far, barely allowing Campbell to breathe along that flank. Adekugbe was a very key piece of Canada's success in this game, making full use of his opportunity and executing his assigned task flawlessly. "Tonight for me was one of those statement performances from Sam Adekugbe, and it keeps showing us that we've got so much depth in this team. Sam started tonight; usually it's Richie (Laryea) on the left and Alistair Johnston on the right, and we were able to sort of rotate that. Part of that's with one thought in mind for Mexico as well."
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchSamuel Adekugbe, Canada The left-back put in a tremendous shift both on and off the ball, showing off some slick footwork going forward and working extremely hard in defence to track back and suffocate the Costa Rican attack. As Herdman said postmatch, Adekugbe showed a new level of confidence in a red shirt in this game.
What’s next?Canada will remain in Edmonton over the weekend, as they prepare to host Mexico this Tuesday, November 16 (9:05 pm ET/7:05 pm MT). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.