And, exhale. For now.
The Canadian men’s national team booked its ticket to the second round of Concacaf’s FIFA World Cup Qualifying on Tuesday night with a 4-0 win over Suriname, comfortably passing their most serious test in some time.
Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David were tremendous, combining for all four goals (the latter scoring the final three), as the Canadians survived a tense first half to move on.
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With the win, Canada finished first in Group B with a perfect 3-0-0 record and plus-26 goal differential, sending them into next week’s home-and-home knockout tie with Haiti (who beat Nicaragua on Tuesday to win their own group).
Here are three thoughts that stand out from a fantastic night for the Canadian men.
Superstars do superstar things
Watch the highlights of this game on repeat all week. We’ve been saying it for months, but something genuinely special is happening here.
Alphonso Davies already demonstrated flashes of his superstar swagger in the March window, but the matches against Bermuda and Cayman Islands didn’t quite have the weight or hype of this clash — whether it was justified or not. Jonathan David, like Davies did last time, made his triumphant return to the starting lineup after well over a year away, and he was outstanding.
The pair combined for three of Canada’s goals, with David setting up Davies’ opener before going on to score a hat-trick himself. Both of David’s non-penalty kick goals came on the back of blistering runs and excellent set-ups by the Bayern Munich fullback.
The best part, though, is that both players — coming off extraordinary years at the club level with Bayern and Lille — know that they’re superstars in this region. Exhibit A: David’s goal celebration after scoring his second.
The greatest players are those who show up when it counts, and there’s no denying that Davies and David did so on Tuesday. These players are extraordinary.
Canada survives nervous start, settles into game
For the first 15 minutes or so, Suriname had Canada on the ropes at times. A couple of chances early threatened the Canadians — including one shot off the crossbar that bounced down just in front of the goal line — but the defence ultimately held firm.
Canada’s midfield was a little quiet in the early stages, and a few passes from the likes of Jonathan Osorio and Stephen Eustáquio went awry, but they settled in well and began out-running the quickly-tiring Suriname midfield.
There’s no denying the Canadians entered the game with some nerves, knowing the stakes and expecting a greater test than they’d seen in a while. At the same time, it certainly seemed part of Suriname’s game plan to pressure Canada as much as possible in the early stages.
So, we can confidently say that Canada passed that test; perhaps a previous version of the national team may have struggled more with such pre-match buildup and pressure, but this squad has designs on playing at a far higher level.
Scott Kennedy comfortable in debut
Canada’s starting 11 surprised a lot of people on Tuesday, with perhaps the most notable choice being Scott Kennedy getting the nod at centre-back for his first-ever appearance with the men’s national team. The 24-year-old slotted into a trio of central defenders, alongside veteran Doneil Henry and Alistair Johnston, who himself has just two caps (both of them at fullback).
With Canada having to weather some pressure early on, Kennedy was involved frequently. He looked solid in the air, dealing with a few crosses from both set-pieces and open play. Overall, he was composed and kept his place in the backline well. He made a few brave ventures up into midfield with the ball, which ultimately didn’t lead to much but caused no harm.
Kennedy, who had a strong year with SSV Jahn Regensburg in the German second tier, was a bit of an unknown quantity coming into camp, but he clearly impressed John Herdman enough to warrant the risky move of deploying him for a debut in a make-or-break match.
It turned out excellently. Kennedy has surely played his way well up the depth chart, and could be a good option again next week against Group E winners Haiti.
Canada will face the Haitians in a two-legged 2022 World Cup qualifying second round starting Saturday (5pm ET/2pm PT). The second leg will follow next Tuesday night (9pm ET/6pm PT) with a place in the third and final round of Concacaf qualifying up for grabs. Both matches will be live on OneSoccer.