FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers Canada vs. Panama March 30, 2022 at 9:05 pm ET Estadio Rommel Fernández in Panama City, Panama Watch live on OneSoccer, TELUS Ch. 980, and Sportsnet

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After securing their spot in the Qatar 2022 World Cup on Sunday in Toronto against Jamaica, the Canadian men's national team are back in action on Wednesday night in Panama. That 4-0 win on Sunday was Canada's biggest of this World Cup Qualifying round, beating the 3-0 win over El Salvador from September, and the 4-1 victory over this same Panama team in October. Panama took an early lead in that match at BMO Field, with Rolando Blackburn finding the back of the net in just the 5th minute, but Canada stormed back to win comfortably in the end. An own goal from Panama defender Michael Amir Murillo saw the sides enter halftime tied at one goal apiece, but Canada's young attacking stars took control after the interval. Alphonso Davies scored one of the greatest goals ever by a Canadian player, sprinting to barely keep the ball in play, before turning around a defender and beating a flat-footed goalkeeper to his near post for what would be the winning goal. Tajon Buchanan and Jonathan David extended the lead in the 71st and 78th minutes, respectively, securing a big 4-1 result to extend Canada's unbeaten run to begin World Cup Qualifying to four matches. That streak would end up reaching eleven games, before the 1-0 loss in Costa Rica last Thursday. Panama will be looking to finish off their qualifying cycle on a high note as well, after their World Cup aspirations were extinguished with a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the United States at Exploria Stadium on Sunday. A hat trick from Christian Pulisic and goals from Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira confirmed that Panama won't be able to overtake Costa Rica for fourth place in the CONCACAF table, which would give them another chance to qualify through a playoff against a team from another region. Anibal Godoy scored an 86th-minute goal, but it was too little too late for the visitors, who will return home for their 14th and final match of the window. They qualified for the World Cup for the first, and only, time in 2018, where they finished bottom of a tough group that included England, Belgium and Tunisia. The last time Canada played at the Estadio Rommel Fernández was in November of 2014, a match that would end 0-0. Only four players from that Canadian squad are still with the national team for this game -- Atiba Hutchinson, Milan Borjan, Doneil Henry and Jonathan Osorio. Panama midfielder Aníbal Godoy was sent off in that match, something he'll be wanting to avoid on Wednesday if the Nashville SC player sees the pitch. That wasn't the most recent time a team from Canada has stepped on that pitch, however. Canadian Premier League side Forge FC visited on November 3, 2020 to take on Tauro in the CONCACAF League, and came away with a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Mo Babouli and Daniel Krutzen. It won't be an easy game for Canada -- none of them are in CONCACAF, and especially not in World Cup Qualifying, but they will be expecting a positive result away from home in this one.


Canada celebrated securing their spot in Qatar, but there's more to play for on Wednesday

It has been clear time and time again during John Herdman's time in charge of the national team that they are a very close group. The celebrations after the match began on the pitch and continued into the night, well-deserved after a memorable World Cup Qualifying campaign came to an end. "Being in the dressing room was a top three moment in my life," Herdman said with a big smile in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. "We had some fun in there, some real fun, it's not very often I get to let my hair down. Then it's back to being humble again and seeing the families and thanking them -- I got to meet nearly every family, every parent of those wonderful boys." Canada know that Wednesday's game is still an important one for them, both for the personal goals they set, and potential World Cup draw implications. If Canada win, they're into pot three for the World Cup draw, which in theory would give them an easier draw for the group than it would if they remained in pot four. "It's a critical match," he added. "The players, we gave them a day to celebrate yesterday, but the staff were back at it from 6:30 am yesterday (Monday) morning. We're scouting, we're putting the subs plans together, we're making sure we have the right information so we can execute in Panama. "When we came into this we said we'd qualify, but qualify was only one of the goals that we set. To really define the new Canada was finishing top of CONCACAF, and what we know about the US, they scored five against Panama, and they could score four against Costa Rica and top us... we're not letting that happen. To define the new Canada you've got to be number one, and that's what we're pushing for."

How much will Herdman rotate the squad?

There are several players in the Canada squad that are yet to take the pitch at all during this international window, so with qualification secured, head coach John Herdman has an opportunity to rotate the squad a bit should he choose to do so. The obvious one would be in goal, with Milan Borjan playing all 180 minutes through the first two games. One of the best players in the region over the past few months, there's no reason to drop Borjan, but he has some more-than-capable backups that can slot into the lineup on Wednesday if Herdman wants to take a look at someone. The other two goalies, Max Crepeau of Los Angeles FC and Minnesota United's Dayne St. Clair, are in red-hot form at the moment. Crepeau has started all four of LAFC's four games this season, picking up three wins and a draw. Two of those starts ended in clean sheets. St. Clair has also picked up a pair of shutouts already in 2022 in his two starts, including an eight-save performance against the New York Red Bulls on March 13. Centre-backs Steven Vitória and Derek Cornelius are also yet to see any action, and the same can be said about left back Cristián Gutiérrez. Up top, Liam Millar is the only Canadian attacker who hasn't taken the pitch in either match. One player that Canadian fans have been wanting to see since he made a cameo appearance for his international debut off the bench in Costa Rica is CF Montreal midfielder Ismaël Koné. The 19-year-old replaced Jonathan Osorio for the final 10 minutes of last Thursday's contest and looked composed in what was surely a stressful atmosphere as Canada tried to secure World Cup qualification. The youngster has impressed thus far with Montreal, scoring a pair of goals in seven appearances to begin his professional career, including one in the CONCACAF Champions League.

"It's like a perfect storm": Canada look to continue to grow ahead of back-to-back World Cup appearances in 2022 and 2026

After confirming their spot at the 2022 World Cup on Sunday, Herdman is of course focusing on Qatar, but already has one eye on what's beyond this winter, and the potential that Canada have to become an even stronger team. With the 2026 World Cup taking place in Canada, the United States and Mexico, the Canada head coach knows that the next few years were always going to be transformational for soccer in Canada, and by qualifying by their own merit for the 2022 tournament, some of that growth is ahead of schedule. To meet high expectations over the next four years and beyond, Canada need to continue to put its best foot forward and grow, something that Herdman says Canada must not fail to take advantage of. He compared Canada's position to that of Japan, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1998, then qualified for the 2002 as hosts, and haven't missed a World Cup since. "The beauty for Canada is that we have a home World Cup in 2026, this is why we had to qualify, because now we get a double World Cup window, and we can't get this wrong now," Herdman said on Tuesday. "What I've seen with Japan is the evolution of really delibrate spending within the infrastructure of the JFA that allowed them to continually now qualify. "Where we've got it right, we've got the generational pool that isn't going away now for the next 10 years, that's the beauty for Canada. Sometimes you qualify, like a Honduras, your generational pool qualifies you and then four years later those guys are 36 and they can't do it again and you can't hit the next one. "It's like a perfect storm. You've got the leadership, you've got the backroom staff with the understanding of high performance and podium success, you've got the generational talent pool, and you've got the back-to-back World Cups. We're set, if this country gets this wrong... phfff... we've got the best opportunity now to become a powerhouse in world football."


Canada wins: 4 || Panama wins: 1 || Draws: 6

Previous match:

October 13, 2021 — Canada 4-1 Panama

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