FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers El Salvador vs. Canada February 2, 2022 at 9:00 pm ET Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador, El Salvador Watch live on OneSoccer, TELUS Ch. 980, and Sportsnet
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MATCH PREVIEWThe Canadian men's national team is back on the road on Wednesday after their triumph over the weekend, as they head into Central America once again to take on El Salvador at Estadio Cuscatlán. John Herdman's side will be hoping to make this a much-coveted nine-point international window, having already defeated Honduras and the United States within the past week to remain in first place in the eight-team final round of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying. With 22 points (four more than Mexico and the U.S., and five more than Panama), Canada are achingly close to securing their spot at Qatar 2022. In fact, if the chips fall in a certain way, they could be officially World Cup-bound by the end of matches on Wednesday night -- if they beat El Salvador, then a U.S. loss to Honduras, a Panama loss to Mexico, and dropped points for Costa Rica against Jamaica would do it. More squarely in focus, though, is an opportunity for Canada to remain undefeated through 11 games of the Octagon. Herdman has made it clear that keeping that record, and qualifying in first place, is a serious goal for this team, and they won't want that to slip after such an impressive victory over their rivals on Sunday. El Salvador, meanwhile, are clinging to their own fading World Cup qualification hopes. They sit in sixth place with nine points, eight back of Panama for the intercontinental playoff spot, so they desperately need to pick up a win. They've had a reasonably good window, losing a narrow 1-0 decision to the United States in Columbus last week before beating their greatest rivals Honduras 2-0 away from home on Sunday. The Salvadorans haven't been to a World Cup since 1982, but their current squad has some young talent that coach Hugo Pérez is hoping can help spring an era of success for La Selecta. Historically, Canada have a reasonably strong record against El Salvador, with nine wins, four draws, and five defeats in 18 meetings. The Canadians won 3-0 at BMO Field in September in the first round of matches in the Octagon, thanks to an early Atiba Hutchinson goal plus markers from Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan. Even in El Salvador, Canada have a decent 2-2-2 record, playing out a 0-0 draw in their last visit to Cuscatlán in 2015. No Concacaf team has yet managed to win all three games of a window in this cycle's final round, but that accolade will be in clear focus for Canada as they step into San Salvador.
3 THINGS TO WATCH
What threat does El Salvador pose?Although Canada handled El Salvador quite well in September, this opponent is not to be taken lightly -- especially not in the highly-charged atmosphere of Estadio Cuscatlán. The Salvadorans were impressive at times in 2021 especially at the Gold Cup (where they got to the quarter-finals and did well in a narrow loss to Qatar) and while playing at home in World Cup Qualifying. They held the U.S., Honduras, and Costa Rica to 0-0 draws, and they defeated Panama 1-0, managing to make it very difficult for teams to generate much in the attack. Under Hugo Pérez, the Salvadorans have played some strong possession football, holding onto the ball as much as possible in a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 formation. It hasn't always worked -- they were heavily out-possessed by the United States last week -- but they've shown an ability to frustrate teams. When they don't have the ball, El Salvador are also a threat to pick off passes and create quick scoring opportunities in transition, much like Honduras were. Seattle Sounders midfielder Alex Roldan is a key part of their structure, as is 20-year-old Enrico Hernandez, who plays his club football in the Dutch Eredivisie for Vitesse. Up front, Nelson Bonilla of Port FC in Thailand is their most reliable goalscorer; La Selecta haven't been the most explosive attacking team in the Octagonal, but they do have enough quality to punish Canada for mistakes at the back.
Reinforcements incoming for CanMNTJohn Herdman will have some difficult decisions to make with his starting XI on Wednesday after two hard-fought contests against Honduras and the United States. Centre-back Steven Vitória will be forced out due to a card accumulation suspension, and midfielder Sam Piette is likely still not quite fit after injuring his ankle in San Pedro Sula, but other than that the squad is in good shape. Canada announced Tuesday that they've called in fullback Zachary Brault-Guillard to join them, which may suggest a fitness concern with one of Alistair Johnston or Richie Laryea, but he'll provide an additional option at the back. Meanwhile, Atiba Hutchinson should play a role in this game after missing the match on Sunday due to suspension. So, too, might Stephen Eustáquio, whose presence in the middle has been missed the last two games with his late arrival in camp. Having already accomplished so much in this window, Canada's approach to this third game will be interesting. They'll want to bank three points and lock up qualification as early as possible, but Herdman may still want to give some starting minutes to a few players who haven't seen any in recent contests. Lucas Cavallini or Iké Ugbo, perhaps, could get a look up top, after Jonathan David and Cyle Larin both started together the past two games. Meanwhile, Doneil Henry is likely to draw in at centre-back, especially with Vitória out. Trusted depth is very important, so giving opportunities for players to show Herdman he can rely on them in a match if needed seems wise.
Get on the front footThe two wins in the past week looked quite different to one another. The game in Honduras was not particularly pretty, with a lot of disjointed play on a bumpy pitch, but Herdman was pleased with his side's ability to triumph in an ugly match thanks to their individual quality. Against the U.S., Canada entered with a clear game plan to disrupt the transitional play and defend in a low block, sitting back and frustrating the visitors. Expect this outing to be quite different in terms of flow. Against a team like El Salvador, which doesn't necessarily have the individual talent of the Americans, Canada will probably look to get on the front foot more and dictate play -- especially if Eustáquio is involved. That's definitely how Canada approached their last meeting with El Salvador back in September, although that game was at home which might make this one slightly different. Still, this is a good opportunity for Canada to show how devastating they can be when they come out and take control of the ball, trying to create with incisive build-up play. Most visiting teams have struggled to create chances in El Salvador recently, but the Canadians will feel they have the combination of pace and technical ability to break through a defensive line and open things up.
El Salvador wins: 5 || Canada wins: 9 || Draws: 4
September 8, 2021 — Canada 3-0 El Salvador
September 8, 2021 — Canada 3-0 El Salvador