FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Costa Rica vs. Canada March 24, 2022 at 10:00 pm ET Estadio Nacional in San José, Costa Rica Watch live on OneSoccer, TELUS Ch. 980, and Sportsnet

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Win and you're in. That's it. One day shy of a year after the Canadian men's national team began its 2022 World Cup Qualifying journey, they have a chance to complete the job on Thursday night. John Herdman's side go into this, the 18th game of this march to Qatar, knowing that a win over Costa Rica would officially guarantee them their first FIFA World Cup berth since 1986. There are several permutations, depending on results elsewhere in the Concacaf Octagonal on Thursday, that could see Canada qualify in San José, but the simplest one is that three points would put them on 28 total through 12 games of the final round, which is more than fourth-place Panama (17 points with three games to play) could possibly match, guaranteeing Canada automatic qualification as a top-three finisher. The other scenarios that would see Canada clinch are available here. "Like every game in the Octagon, it's a cup final," coach Herdman told reporters Wednesday. "It's about playing every second, every moment of the game, staying away from the occasion, staying away from the scoreboard, staying away from what's happening in the other matches." After 11 matches in the Octagon, Canada remain the only undefeated Concacaf side, with seven wins and four draws. They've won their last six in a row, stretching back to October 13, with wins over Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, the United States, and El Salvador. Even playing away from home -- notoriously difficult in Concacaf -- has been manageable for this Canadian team, who have drawn three and won two so far. Costa Rica, however, pose yet another threat to the Canadians' stellar record. They, too, have been excellent of late; their last defeat was to Canada in Edmonton on November 12, with two wins and two draws (including an impressive 0-0 result versus Mexico at the Azteca) since then. Los Ticos, currently led by Colombian manager Luis Fernando Suárez, are very much alive in the World Cup qualification chase; they're just one point back of Panama for the intercontinental playoff in fourth, and both the U.S. and Mexico (21 points each) remain within touching distance. With capacity restrictions lifted for this game at the Estadio Nacional, Canada can expect a fired up, hungry opponent. Qualifying for the World Cup has become something of a habit for the Costa Ricans, who have qualified for five of the last eight tournaments including the previous two in 2014 and 2018. At Brazil 2014, they made waves by winning Group D ahead of Uruguay, Italy, and England, and then beat Greece in the round of 16 before falling to the Netherlands on penalties in the quarter-finals. These two sides will not be unfamiliar with one another, having met twice in 2021. The first was the aforementioned 1-0 win in Edmonton, where Jonathan David's goal was all Canada needed to claim victory at Commonwealth Stadium. Before that, though, these sides met in the Gold Cup quarter-final last summer, where Canada won 2-0 in their first triumph over an Octagonal side in 2021. The current forecast for Thursday night is a humid evening with temperatures just under 20 degrees. Though San José's altitude isn't quite as big an issue as it is in Mexico City, the 1200-metre elevation might add to the challenge for Canada as well. Canada have a few notable absences for this game, beyond the obvious (Alphonso Davies). Sam Piette missed out on the squad due to injury, and both Sam Adekugbe and Doneil Henry are suspended for the first match of the window due to card accumulation. It's nothing they haven't dealt with before, though. John Herdman and co. know their mission, and they intend to complete it.


What threat does Costa Rica pose?​

As mentioned above, Los Ticos have tons of experience, including at the World Cup. Ten members of their current squad were part of the 2018 World Cup roster, and five of them played at the 2014 tournament as well. So, there's plenty of veteran savvy in this Costa Rican team -- although, perhaps not as much youthful energy as the Canadians. Costa Rica still leans on its core pieces. Joel Campbell, the 29-year-old (109 caps) currently playing for Mexican side Monterrey but formerly of clubs like Arsenal and Villarreal, often leads the attacking line, while Alajuelense teammates Bryan Ruiz (137 caps) and Celso Borges (145) usually rotate through the midfield. Suárez likes to deploy his team in a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation, putting as many bodies as possible into the middle of the park to clog things up and frustrate an opponent trying to play through the middle. The vast majority of this roster plays domestically in the Costa Rican league, with a few high-quality pieces playing abroad, like FC Copenhagen defender Bryan Oviedo, or -- the pièce de résistance of this team -- Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who has three UEFA Champions League trophies to his name with Real Madrid. Navas was absent for both of Costa Rica's games against Canada in 2021, but he's back in the squad this time as they try and claim a World Cup place. Jonathan David benefitted from a goalkeeping error by Leonel Moreira in the game in Edmonton, but it's unlikely Canada will get that lucky with Navas between the sticks. "They're unbeaten now in four matches, three clean sheets," Herdman said Wednesday. "I think what I've seen is they're buying into the coach's philosophy, which is a really tight defensive unit... The Costa Rica I've seen in November is going to be very different to the one we're going to experience in San José." With so many of this squad playing club football in Costa Rica, the national federation decided to put their domestic league on hold for two weeks in March to prepare specifically for this international window. So, they'll be extremely well-prepared to host Canada.

Selection questions for Herdman, especially at LB

Without Alphonso Davies available, Canada have managed to fill his spot on the left side without too much difficulty. Samuel Adekugbe, in particular, has shouldered a lot of the load at fullback. Unfortunately, Adekugbe won't be an option for this game in Costa Rica; he's suspended due to the yellow card he picked up at the end of the last game in El Salvador. Doneil Henry is suspended too. So, perhaps the first decision John Herdman has to make is who he puts in those positions for this game. The most likely option at LB is Richie Laryea, who's a natural right-back but has played on the left plenty of times -- which would put Alistair Johnston at right fullback, probably -- although there are other options, including Tajon Buchanan as a wingback in a back five, or even Cristián Gutíerrez. Herdman told media after the squad announcement that he's confident Laryea and Stephen Eustáquio will be ready to go, despite a lack of minutes at club level recently, but their fitness will still be a question mark heading into this game. Beyond that, Herdman doesn't really have any serious injury concerns to deal with. Jonathan David and Cyle Larin will both be key to this window; Herdman has, at various times, opted to play them together or split minutes between them, and with this being another three-match window it's important to find balance.

Stretch the pitch with pace​

Even without Davies, Canada is one of the fastest teams in Concacaf -- if not the fastest outright. We saw in the last window -- in all three games -- how quickly Canada get get into the attacking third, whether via passing or flat-out individual pace. The link-up for Cyle Larin's early goal against the U.S. demonstrated the kind of lightning-fast attacking move that could work against Costa Rica, a side who will similarly look to gain control of the middle of the pitch. Or, there are the counter-attacking options that bypass the centre; Liam Fraser's long ball to Jonathan David doesn't seem like a play Canada would plan on replicating exactly, but the idea of hitting high, pacey forwards with those passes seems like a decent fallback plan if Los Ticos do indeed neutralize the passing lanes through the middle. Tajon Buchanan's role in this game will be an interesting one; the Club Brugge youngster can fit in pretty much anywhere across an attacking lineup. He's probably the fastest player in Canada's current squad, and he has the technical ability to take on defenders on the counter. Look for him to draw attention and stretch the pitch as vertically as possible, either to spring a transitional attack or else to draw defenders and create space in other areas of the pitch. "I think we can get greater control of these matches and impose a more attacking identity, even if we go a goal up or two," Herdman said. "We want to make sure that's a growth area for us." Opposing teams are well aware of those particular threats from Canada, but in many cases there's not much they can do about it. Could that be the case on Thursday? Or will Costa Rica's experience and cohesion help them mitigate the Canadian threat?


Costa Rica wins: 8 || Canada wins: 6 || Draws: 9

Previous Match:

November 12, 2021 -- Canada 1-0 Costa Rica


"We've come back with a little humility to our training sessions this week. We've identified some areas from January we weren't happy with, areas where some of our stats dropped below a line a line we thought was acceptable for our team. So we've worked hard this week on the process of improving, and those improvements can carry us through the game." -- Canada coach John Herdman

"It's a good approach to each game if you go in trying to win. It puts you on the front foot and it makes you more aggressive in the way you want to play, and overall it feels better when you're trying to win something, so that's definitely our mentality going into these three games." -- Canada midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye.

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