EDITORIAL – Following Friday’s victory over Costa Rica and the United States dropping points against Jamaica, Canada found themselves in a position to lead the Octogonal standings. Their 2-1 victory over a Mexican team that historically has had their number was a remarkable achievement for John Herdman’s side, who finished off this window with six out of six points. The snow covered Edmonton crowd witnessed a Cyle Larin double, a wild scrambling Milan Borjan in stoppage time, and a leaping Sam Adekugbe with a goal celebration that will stick with the Canadian faithful for a long time.
Analysis: Canada survive a Mexico scare in Edmonton
Well before a ball was even kicked in this one, tons of speculation fell on the venue for the match. Commonwealth Stadium was buried under heavy snowfall for the better part of the entire weekend, earning the nickname the “ICE-teca”, after Mexico’s faded home the Azteca. The hard turf resulted in bobbling balls all game long, making it difficult for Canada’s explosive dribblers Davies and Buchanan to make much of an impact in this one. Confirmed rumours of Mexico being denied training time at the Edmonton Indoor Soccer Dome due to it being booked by youth girl’s soccer didn’t help the situation either. Regardless, over 40,000 braved the cold and the snow to witness a historic night for Canada.
Reverting back to a familiar formation
Following their move to a 4-4-2 against Costa Rica, Herdman reverted back to something he’s more comfortable and familiar with, a 3-4-3. While it still wasn’t his preferred 3-5-2, the Canadian coach trusted Stephen Estaquio and Atiba Hutchinson to control the middle of the park. Hutchinson made his 90th appearance for Canada, surpassing Julian De Guzman for all time appearances by a Canadian. While it was expected that Hutchinson would be brought off for fresher legs, the 38 year old veteran lasted the full 90. There was also the switch up front, replacing Friday’s goalscorer Jonathon David with the in from Larin, paired with Davies and Buchanan leading the lines. It’s always controversial leaving off the player who scored the last game’s match winner, especially when he’s a Ligue 1 champion and leading the golden boot race. Looking back on that decision however, seems as though it worked out.
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 17, 2021
Lack of true possession favours Canada
Coming into the break, the score had just been made 1-0 by Larin, with possession pretty evenly split at 51%-49% for Canada. With electric players on the rush, a back and forth midfield battle with dominant spells of possession few and far between screams advantage for Canada. Including Tuesday’s match, 11 of Canada’s last 15 goals have come from two or fewer passes. Unsustainable? Perhaps. However, making sure that those chances are capitalized on is a strong suit of Canada. A rebounded effort and a tap in from a free kick. There were no 30 pass movements, no midfield maestro trickery. Instead, a hammer them down their throat mentality with clinical finishing when called upon.
Apart from that Tajon Buchanan chance in the second half. But we don’t talk about that…
Scary defending to end the match
While holding their deserved 2-0 lead entering the final minutes, the moment may have gotten to Canada a little bit as the final whistle neared. A cross from Jesus Corona found a wide open Hector Herrera who was able to tuck his header home, setting up a nervous few minutes for Canada. If it wasn’t Herrera, there were three or four other Mexicans it could have been. To follow that up, a number of Canadian defenders (six to be exact) watched Nestor Araujo lose his man off of a corner and have a chance to break Canadian hearts. Some heroics from Borjan kept the ball out after parrying the ball off of the line, before being eventually cleared by Buchanan.
MEXICO ARE DENIED ON THE LINE 🤯 pic.twitter.com/uLSWhxKsGF
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 17, 2021
Far too poor defending from Canada there, who were no more than six inches away from blowing a 2-0 home lead in stoppage time. Understandably, the fans were getting more and more excited throughout the final 20 minutes of the game, with Canada seemingly in full control. Perhaps a little too comfortable as Mexico made a final surge, but did just enough (and no more) to get the job done.
Midfield turned some heads
Playing a game without a number ten can be difficult for two flat midfielders and a pair of wing backs. Hutchinson and Estaquio, both great players on the ball and defensively, but neither truly showing much ability to progress the ball forward directly. Sam Adekugbe, off the back of his man of the match performance against Costa Rica, was playing in a more advanced role, alongside Richie Laryea completing the midfield four. Laryea, often held in the same category for on the ball ability as Davies and Buchanan, was kept relatively quiet. Estaquio continued his brilliance from dead balls as he contributed by whipping in the free kick for Larin’s second which inevitably was the match winner.
— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) November 17, 2021
As for Hutchinson, a historic night regardless of the result, becoming the most capped men’s national player in Canadian history. But his performance on the pitch isn’t typically one you would see from a 38 year old holding midfielder. Winning aerial battles in the Mexican third, at time’s leading the lines next to Larin, Hutchinson contributed offensively much more than we typically see. Regardless of whether that’s due to a lack of Osorio at 10, a difficult game to establish continued offensive pressure, or perhaps just the magic of the Iceteca.
All in all, it wasn’t a perfect game for Canada, but it was a perfect night. Well over a million viewers on television, from coast to coast to coast, donned the red maple leaf. While Canada have put in better, more easily watchable performances this qualifying campaign, a first win over a CONCACAF giant in 21 years is a perfect way to spend a Tuesday night. In years to come, plenty more will claim that they were there, however the magic ride is not over yet.
Leading the Octogonal standings at the end of 2021, climbing to their tied highest ever position in the FIFA world rankings, a country starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. While there are still six games remaining, Qatar is starting to feel all too real for Canadian fans.
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 17, 2021