The Canadian men’s national team is going to the Octagon for the first time since 1997.
Their 3-0 win over Haiti Tuesday night sealed Canada’s advancement to the final round of FIFA World Cup Qualifying, after a nervous game in Chicago turned sharply into a showcase of talent from the Canadians.
Although they first took the lead from a devastating own goal by Haiti, Canada went on to score twice more — thanks to Cyle Larin and Junior Hoilett — to wrap up the two-legged tie and take it 4-0 on aggregate.
Now, they move on to the eight-team final stage — although the Concacaf Gold Cup will come first, this summer.
Before we can look too far ahead, though, here are three immediate thoughts from Canada’s historic victory.
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Make your own luck?
Spare a thought for Josué Duverger, the 21-year-old goalkeeper forced into action after regular Haitian starter Johny Placide missed out due to visa issues. Duverger, who was actually born in Montreal, made a flood of outstanding saves, including three from point-blank range in the first half on Jonathan David.
And then, disaster struck him: his brutal error on a back pass from his defender early in the second half gave Canada their first goal of the night, making it 2-0 on aggregate and effectively sinking his team.
Canadian fans certainly felt for Duverger (although it’s not like they haven’t seen similar bad luck strike their own side), but it’s not as though Canada wasn’t deserving of a goal. They dominated possession and had the overwhelming advantage in chances; certainly, it felt as though Canada scoring was inevitable, although perhaps not in that fashion.
Speed, skill overwhelms Haiti out wide
The tempo of this match was far quicker than the previous contest in Port-au-Prince, with Canada able to move the ball more comfortably on the slicker pitch. The Canadians pressed Haiti feverishly in the first half, hunting down every ball more than a few inches from a Haitian foot.
Alphonso Davies had, as he often does, an inspired performance down the left flank, staying a little wider than he has in previous matches but still taking on multiple defenders at a time and scorching them with his pace. Davies and Jonathan David both seemed to have the ball glued to their boots at times, with a number of tricky moves putting them past defenders — although the finish wasn’t necessarily always there.
Still, Canada’s outright talent was on display far more in this match than it was in the last, and it’s the main reason they blew Haiti out of the water in shots (18-4) in a match where their opponents desperately needed to score.
Canada demonstrated facets of their game that they’ll need to be comfortable unleashing against the toughest opponents in Concacaf this Fall. They can hang with just about anyone, so long as they remain confident and continue to play to their strengths.
Alistair Johnston comfortable in advanced role
After starting the previous two contests for Canada as the right-sided defender in a back three, Johnston was afforded a little more freedom this time around. With Doneil Henry coming into the side to replace Richie Laryea, Johnston moved into his more natural fullback position on the right side, and he excelled.
Johnston, a capable two-way player, got to show a little more of his attacking acumen in this game, and he thrived for it. With the Haitians overloading Davies’ side at times in the first half, Canada wasn’t afraid to play through Johnston, who found himself well up the pitch around the box.
The attacking side of Johnston’s game is a major reason he’s been so useful to Nashville SC in the past year, and he’d shown glimpses of it in earlier World Cup qualifying matches but not yet against the more challenging opponents. It’s unclear whether or not Johnston has supplanted Laryea — a combination of match form and fatigue may have given Johnston the edge this time around — but it’s very clear that John Herdman has (at least) two very capable options at right-back.