Alphonso Davies carries Canada to a thrilling win over Panama

CanMNT player Alphonso Davies chases the ball at BMO Field

ANALYSIS – Wednesday’s World Cup Qualifying Match between Panama and Canada was played with a lot at stake. After Panama pulled off a surprising 1-0 win over the USA on Sunday, it pulled the Panamanians ahead of Canada for the third and final automatic qualifying spot in Concacaf. Although it was still relatively early in the cycle, many were calling this a must-win for Canada at home. And they delivered, In thrilling fashion. Les Rouges ran away with a commanding 4-1 victory in front of 26,622 fans at BMO Field.

Alphonso Davies Carries Canada to a Vital Win over Panama

First Half: Panama Strikes First

Despite Canada’s win and complete control of the match, it was Panama to score first (goal for American viewers). After Canada got off to a decent start, the Panamanians caught Canada in transition and opened the scoring. With Canada lining up in their preferred 3-5-2 formation, Panama quickly switched the play from left to right to create an overload. This freed up Anderlecht man Michael Murillo to run with the ball into space thanks to a through pass. Canada was late to react and left to scramble. Murillo kept his composure and played a beautiful square ball across to Rolando Blackburn for the finishing touch. And just like that, Panama had a second consecutive surprising road lead.

Canada Fights Back, Again

Canada has been known to have sloppy starts throughout World Cup qualifying. Despite being undefeated through six matches, Canada has conceded the opening goal in four of them. Once again, Canada did not let a deficit scare them, as they came roaring back immediately.

Alphonso Davies was a man on a mission to lead the comeback. He was creating chance after chance. Including two fantastic setups for striker Jonathan David. Unfortunately for David, he did not make the most of either opportunity. In the eighth minute, David was one on one with the keeper and instead played a ball across. This ultimately led to a shot from David Wotherspoon that got blocked. For a player as in form as he is, David needs to take a shot on there. Then in the 15th minute, Davies played David in again. This time his shot was well saved by the fingertips of Panama’s keeper, Luis Mejia.

Murillo Giveth, Murillo Taketh Away

Canada’s dominance finally was rewarded, in a very unconventional way (goal for American viewers). After a flurry of corner kicks for Canada, it was an own goal that finally found the back of the net. Eerily similar to Panama’s goal over the USA on Sunday, Davies’ corner was flicked on by Murillo and into Mejia’s net. After Murillo had such a key role in Panama’s opening goal, he undid it all with this own goal. They all count the same in the end, and Canada was thrilled to have the equalizer they deserved.

Second Half: A Change of Pace

Canada came out flying to start the second half. After the game got very hostile to end the first half, Canada came out of the locker room and let their play do the talking. To combat this, Panama manager Thomas Christiansen made a triple change in the fifty-second minute. This seemed to have changed the flow of the game, and Panama was finally able to get spells of possession for large chunks of time. The momentum of the game felt like it was shifting until Alphonso Davies singlehandedly changed the outlook of the match.

Alphonso Davies is a National Hero

In the sixty-sixth minute, David lumped an aimless pass forward that looked like no human being could possibly chase down. But Alphonso Davies is not human. Davies made up triple the ground on defender Harold Cummings, and miraculously not only kept the ball in play when it was so nearly out, but he kept his full momentum forward to not allow any Panamanians to recover (goal for American viewers). This led to a two on two, with still plenty of work to do. But for the best left-back in the world, it was simple. Just a couple step-overs followed by an exquisitely struck driven shot back at the near post that Mejia had ho hope in saving.

The entire play was quite simply breathtaking. Undeniably, this goes down as the biggest goal scored by a Canadian male soccer player in quite some time. Give Alphonso Davies the Lou Marsh award right now. Give him FIFA 22 team of the year. Even host another election and let Davies run for prime minister. He deserves it all and more.

Panama Out of Gas on Comeback Trail

After the goal, Panama was forced to open up, to try to get a goal back. This did not bode well, as Canada scored another two quick goals to ensure three points.

First, Tajon Buchanan had a sublime finish with his head on a cross from Richie Laryea. He expertly struck it across keeper Mejia’s body leaving him no chance once again. Then it was David making up for his missed opportunities in the first half. The Lille man was played in once again by Davies. After a dummy run by Buchanan drew in two Panama defenders, it fell to David alone at the back post. He coolly slotted it into the back of the net to seal the result.

Three Takeaways:

Canada’s Attack is World Class

Despite a few penalty shouts waived off by referee Armando Villareal and some wasted opportunities from open play, The Reds still scored four goals in this one. It easily could have been more on another night. Davies and Buchanan headline a pacey attack that should instill fear into not only Concacaf defences but the defences around the world. While the finishing hasn’t always been there consistently, it shone bright tonight.

Stephen Eustáquio and Richie Laryea Ready for Next Step

Two key players that get lost in all that attention the attack gets are Stephen Eustaquio and Richie Laryea. Both have seen their role with the national team increase in 2021, and both have passed with flying colours. Eustáquio is key in transitioning the ball from the defence to the forwards. Playing as a deep-lying playmaker, Eustáquio’s passing was on point, tonight and always. Eustáquio is reliable as they come defensively and can take set pieces.

Laryea on the other hand is a versatile wingback. Tonight he featured on the left, despite naturally being right-footed. Laryea not only did not look out of place, but he was crucial for the three points. He came up with an assist and also had a beautiful solo run that nearly resulted in a goal. Laryea has the pace for days and technically can play his way out of tight situations. Additionally, Laryea plays with such intensity and is never afraid to mix it up and stand up to his opponents.

Both players are underrated by many, and both of their club teams should be fielding calls from other clubs in January who are interested in a transfer. Eustáquio and Laryea are ready for that next step in their careers, and it will be interesting to see if clubs around the world are taking notice.

Canada Stick Together as a Team

This rendition of the Canadian Men’s National team is a brotherhood. On two occasions, things got chippy. First, a corner kick in the first half led to the benches clearing. And late in the second half, Laryea claimed to have been spit on by a Panama player. Both times, the Canucks came together and stuck up for one another, defending home turf and refusing to back down.

In years past, Canada would wilt in situations like that and let other teams bully them around. But Herdman has built a culture where all the players have bought in and will fight for one another. It’s great to see Canada no longer be intimidated, and staying united as a team.

Final Thoughts

The job is far from finished. Canada is up by only two points on Panama with eight matches to be played. But after a magical comeback like that, the spirit must be high in that Canada locker room. And their performance has even caught the attention of Drake. The way 2021 has gone for Canadian Soccer, it’s hard to not feel as though the Men are following in the footsteps of the Women after their Gold medal win in Tokyo. With the impressive results both teams are putting up on the pitch, fan support is rising up along with them. Maybe, just maybe, Canada is a soccer country after all.

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