FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Final Score: Canada 2-1 Mexico Goalscorers: Larin 45+2', 52'; Herrera 90'
Match in a minute or lessThe Canadian men's national team wrote an incredible new chapter in their history book on Tuesday night, as they defeated Mexico __ in front of 50,000 fans at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. In sub-zero temperatures on an icy turf pitch, they held El Tri at bay in a stop-start first half before Cyle Larin scored on the brink of halftime by jumping on the rebound of a long-distance shot by Alistair Johnston to finish. After halftime, the Canadians pressed even harder, and quickly found their second goal in the 52nd minute, as Larin once again was the hero, getting on the end of a perfect free kick cross by Stephen Eustáquio to make it 2-0. From there, the deflated Mexican visitors scrambled to try and get on the scoreboard, which they did in the 90th minute as Hector Herrera headed in a cross to make it 2-1, but Canada -- thanks in part to some goalkeeping heroics from Milan Borjan -- held on to move to first place in the final stage of Concacaf's FIFA World Cup Qualifying and take a monumental step toward Qatar 2022.
Conditions an advantage? Unclear, but Mexico clearly shakenPart of what has made this Mexico team so daunting over the years has been their well-defined identity and confidence. Under Tata Martino, they have usually (with a roughly full-strength squad) played with a 4-3-3 formation, with wingers and fullbacks making crosses or looking to pick out runs in behind. Mexico are almost always true to their own style, and most of their matches are played on their terms. That was not the case on Tuesday. Even from before the game, it was clear Mexico were shaken: they'd just lost to the United States, and they'd arrived in Edmonton on Monday evening -- less than 24 hours before kickoff. Then, the lineups came out: a 3-4-3 formation, with an extra centre-back deployed in the middle, in a clear tactical move intended specifically to stop Canada. Whether or not that worked can probably be debated -- it did, in a sense, considering they basically neutralized Alphonso Davies at left wing in the first half, and helped them avoid getting outnumbered in transition -- but at the end of the day, Mexico changed the way they play because of Canada, and that's not something that can be said of many other opponents they've faced. In the first half, the game never really found a rhythm; constant fouls and changes of possession, mixed with the temperature, wind, and unforgiving turf pitch meant the play was extremely disjointed, and Mexico never had the ball long enough (or comfortably enough) to establish their attacking shape and rhythm. According to John Herdman, disrupting Mexico's confidence and mindset was key for his Canadian side. He spoke postmatch about how difficult it has traditionally been for Canada to play on the road against Concacaf opponents, which inspired him and his staff to try and make things difficult for teams to come to Canada. "When you have to go to Azteca and play at altitude it's tough. When you have to go to Jamaica and play in humidity and heat, it's not easy," Herdman said. "These road games are really tough, and every country uses the terrain to their advantage. So I've always seen this as an advantage, there was a genuine opportunity here to bring out the Canadian in our players. They've all grown up on plastic pitches, in cold conditions. We wanted them to feel like it was home. For the Mexicans, they had to adapt, like we had to adapt to altitude." The way the ball skidded across the turf and spilled off Guillermo Ochoa's hands before Cyle Larin's first goal suggests there was at least some advantage for Canada. Certainly, they themselves felt like there was -- and perhaps that's all that mattered.
Hunger, determination make difference for CanadaAs has been the case in both of the previous meetings between Canada and Mexico this year, the Canadians were very clearly up to the challenge on Tuesday. Though they couldn't always break down the opponent in their build-up play, or get Alphonso Davies on the ball as much as they wanted, and the quality of the individual Mexican players was clear, one thing was clearer: Canada was going to be first to almost every second ball, and they were going to fight for every single inch of that frozen pitch. Atiba Hutchinson, Stephen Eustáquio, Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller -- pretty much to a man, the Canadian players were quicker to react to situations, and more determined to win their battles. Take, for instance, Cyle Larin's effort to score both of Canada's goals. He was far faster than either of the Mexican defenders near the ball to notice that Alistair Johnston's distance shot might come back for a rebound and buried it quickly. Then, in the second half, Larin fought for his space before Eustáquio's free kick, then made the perfect run to get on the end of the cross, tracking the ball the whole way. The only moment Mexico really seemed hungrier for a ball than Canada was the moment that produced their goal -- when Héctor Herrera (him again?) fought his way to the top of a throng of defenders to head the ball in, during a momentary lapse in concentration from the hosts. "I said this to all the guys, you're all going to have big moments. Osorio had his moment in the Azteca, Milan (Borjan) had a moment against Honduras -- that save, I still don't know how he got his finger to that save -- so every man will have their moment on this journey, and that's what they keep believing. It is a genuine team effort." When all was said and done, Canada won 53 duels and Mexico won just 35. Canada proved to be the harder-working, more driven team that was more willing to do the difficult things required to win a game played under conditions like those in Edmonton on Tuesday.
Late-game scare proves mettle of both teamsFor a stretch, starting in around the 70th minute, the focus of this game seemed to shift away from the pitch itself in some senses. With the scoreline 2-0, fans at home and in Edmonton seemed to be starting to soak in the moment, with songs of "Olé olé olé" ringing out around Commonwealth Stadium. Mexico, keen on ruining the moment, seemed to find a second wind on the brink of fulltime -- especially after Héctor Herrera finally managed to put one in the net for them. In what John Herdman called "the longest six minutes of my bloody life" postmatch, Canada genuinely did have their hearts in their throats after Herrera scored and the Mexicans seemed to smell blood. The previously-deflated El Tri, at last, looked more like their ruthless selves, restarting stopped plays as quickly as possible and playing dangerous balls over the top of traffic in the box to find players at the far post. Were it not for some absolute heroics by Milan Borjan with his goal-line save and a few more claimed balls to calm some frayed nerves and slow the game down, this might be an entirely different story. We saw just how scary Mexico can be in some of those final moments, but perhaps more tellingly, we also saw that Canada themselves can stand up to the occasion. They were tested in almost every conceivable way on Tuesday, especially in the final 10 minutes, but their desperation defending and composure was just enough to hold on. "Thank god for Milan Borjan and everyone else who put their bodies on the line there to see us through," Herdman said postgame. That Canada was tested in that particular way, and came out of it better off, is a testament to the resolve of the team. Extra credit, once again, is due to Borjan for pushing his way into a heated altercation after the final whistle and, rather than involving himself in the pleasantries, forcefully pushing his own teammates away from the scrum. That was a wise move from the veteran goalkeeper, who knows this side now has bigger fish to fry than picking up silly bookings against an already-beaten opponent.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchMilan Borjan, Canada Genuinely tempted to put "everybody" in this spot -- every player, John Herdman, the thousands of fans in attendance. Cyle Larin was one hero on the day with two goals, but it was Milan Borjan who saved the day right at the end with some incredible saves and game management -- not to mention calming tempers at the fulltime whistle to prevent unnecessary yellow cards.
What’s next?Having completed this two-match international window, Canada will not reconvene until early 2022. Their next World Cup Qualifying fixture will be January 27, when they head on the road to play Honduras. 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.