FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Final Score: Panama 1-0 Canada Goalscorers: Torres 49'
Match in a minute or lessThe Canadian men's national team suffered just its second defeat of this World Cup Qualifying campaign in their final match of the cycle, losing 1-0 on the road to Panama on Wednesday in a close-fought encounter. The only goal that stood from this one was Gabriel Torres' superb volley just after halftime, although Cyle Larin thought he'd equalized for Canada in the 80th minute with a header that was ultimately disallowed by VAR for being offside. Despite the loss, results elsewhere in Concacaf ensured that Canada still qualified as the best team in Concacaf, topping the table with an 8-4-2 record.
Canada rotates squad to varied effectPredictably, Canada chose to shake up its lineup a little in this third and final game of the March window after qualifying for the World Cup on Wednesday. Atiba Hutchinson stepped back in at centre-back, as Lucas Cavallini went in for Cyle Larin at striker and Ismaël Koné replaced Jonathan Osorio in the middle. Plus, Mark-Anthony Kaye returned to the side after serving his suspension against Jamaica, and Maxime Crépeau took over from Milan Borjan in goal. Some of those changes worked far better than others on Wednesday. Kaye, eager to redeem himself after his red card in Costa Rica, put in a very solid hour of work and make a few excellent line-breaking passes (90% overall pass accuracy) to try and help break the press. Crépeau, meanwhile, had an excellent game, making a few very impressive saves, including one diving stop on a dangerous free kick. Koné, however, looked a little out of his depth at times -- as might be expected of a 19-year-old with seven games' professional experience in a match like this one. A lot of his passes missed their mark and he was pushed off the ball far too easily, which made it very difficult for Canada to properly advance the ball to attacking players -- Kaye and Stephen Eustáquio managed to break lines reasonably well, but the plan was clearly to have three midfielders who could do so. It was therefore not surprising when Osorio came in to take Koné's place at halftime. Cavallini, meanwhile, had a very difficult evening up front. He finished his 60-minute run with zero shots and zero expected goals or assists, with just 60% pass accuracy as he struggled to find pockets between Panama defenders. He wasn't helped by Canada's relative inability to get the ball into the box for him, but Cavallini's touch was off too many times and a few attacking moves sputtered on his foot. The Vancouver Whitecaps striker has had an up-and-down World Cup Qualifying campaign but hasn't played many minutes for the national team recently -- certainly not as a starter -- so perhaps he wasn't quite as in-sync with the rest of the side as, perhaps, Larin is. John Herdman still didn't rotate the lineup as much as he could have; a handful of players remained confined to bench roles. Herdman was never going to pass over this game as unimportant, and his reaction to what looked like an equalizer proved as much, but he did use the decreased pressure level to give a few players opportunities and learn more about some role players in his squad.
Physical game keeps tempo slowMuch like it was when these teams played at BMO Field in October, this was an intensely physical game. Panama out-fouled Canada 22 times to 10 and picked up six yellow cards, with a handful of particularly aggressive or cynical challenges that stopped the visitors' momentum at key moments. With this being the last game of the Octagon, there was little reason to hold back; players on both sides were certainly unafraid of taking yellow cards toward the end of the game, with no suspension implications hanging over them. Still, the fouling and intensity seemed more calculated than reckless. With Canada being such a dangerous team in transition, the Panamanians were keen on slowing them down and preventing their opponents from finding any attacking fluidity or rhythm. The physicality also wasn't all nefarious or illegal; Panama made 15 tackles to just six for Canada, doing well to knock players off the ball and reclaim possession. Herdman pointed out postmatch that it was difficult for Canada to adjust to the conditions early on, having left the cold of Toronto so recently and stepped into Panama's humid, near-30 degree weather. Still, the Panamanians were similarly aggressive in 50-50 battles in Toronto, and this time it served them well as Canada couldn't seem to establish many extended spells of open play possession.
Panama press keeps Canada out of dangerous spotsThe other reason Canada had trouble getting into the attacking half was the aggression of Panama's front in pinning them back and making it difficult for the Canadians to play out from defence. One of Cecilio Waterman or Gabriel Torres was constantly bearing down on the defenders attempting to move the ball, forcing either a rushed (and often missed) pass or a turn and a pass backward. It was thus difficult for Canada to build up play, especially in the wide areas where they had the pace advantage, or establish themselves in possession because they weren't afforded the time or space and their long balls to try and break the press often missed the mark. One of the benefits to Atiba Hutchinson playing centre-back is his keen midfielder's ability to thread a pass through a press, which he did on a few occasions -- although one of the downsides is he can run into trouble when pressured, having only the goalkeeper to cycle back to safely. Stephen Eustáquio was best at finding attacking players with a pass, but nevertheless Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan David in particular remained quite isolated and didn't see as much of the ball as they'd hope, especially in the first half. John Herdman tried to address the problem in several different ways; at one point midway through the first half, Buchanan and Sam Adekugbe switched wings to pose different threats to the Panamanian fullbacks on either side, and Canada did seem to have more positive moments after that. Later, Herdman made an even bigger shake-up with some players coming off the bench; Junior Hoilett and Cyle Larin both made an immediate impact on the game and helped to stretch the pitch, which worked against a clearly tiring Panama side. Hoilett was able to get into the wide areas alongside the box quite consistently after coming on, and he continued to push the pace of the game to put Canada in greater control, but ultimately Panama seemed to do enough in the first half to frustrate their opponents in the middle and then the goal just didn't fall (legally, at least) for Canada in the second half.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchStephen Eustáquio, Canada The midfield maestro was excellent again, facilitating most of Canada's trips into the attacking half with incisive, accurate passing. The Porto man has been one of this team's best and most consistent players throughout World Cup Qualifying, and the final game of the journey was no different.
What’s next?This is the final World Cup qualifier Canada will play in this cycle -- and their last for quite a while, with them co-hosting in 2026. Stay tuned for friendlies and Concacaf Nations League matches before they take the pitch in Qatar. 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.