Canada steal three points on the road in feisty El Salvador clash

The CanMNT celebrates Atiba Hutchinson's goal on February 2
Spread the love

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – The game that almost didn’t happen. That phrase was grabbing all of the spotlights in the lead-up to Wednesday’s clash between Canada and El Salvador. A protest by the El Salvadorian players argued for the full payment of their bonuses and refused to hit the field until such. After a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, the game was announced to go ahead as planned, with the home side playing for pride. The Canadians on the other hand were a mere three points and some help away from clinching its first World Cup birth in 36 years. Following results from the US and Costa Rica matches meant that Canada’s inevitable World Cup fate will have to wait for March.

Canada steal three points in El Salvador

Starting XI

For the visitors, John Herdman made a slight change in formation following Sunday’s game, electing for a 4-2-3-1. Doneil Henry made his first start since the “IceTeca” game vs Mexico in November, paired alongside Scott Kennedy who is making his third start in the last four matches. Atiba Hutchinson, who was left out of the squad due to rest against the US, partnered with Stephen Estaquio in the midfield. Following a positive Covid test, Estaquio travelled from Portugal straight to El Salvador. Liam Millar, Jonathan Osorio and Junior Hoilett completed the midfield sitting behind Jonathan David. The selection was the 11th unique starting squad through 11 games in the Octo for Herdman.

As for the hosts, no players from Hugo Perez’s side opted to sit out the match, playing for “national pride”. Perez opted for a 3-5-2 and was forced to make a change in warm-ups. Supposed starting keeper Mario Martinez suffered an injury, forcing Kevin Carabantes to jump into action for the first time in World Cup qualifying. Only Eriq Zavaleta, Ronald Gomez, Narciso Orenella and Nelson Bonilla started both Wednesday as well as Sunday’s 2-0 win over Honduras.

First half

A cagey first twenty minutes never allowed either side a clear-cut chance until the 19th minute. Osorio and Sam Adekugbe linked up down the left side before a ball into the box found a streaking David. His first-time effort was steered wide by Carabantes, as the game started to open up more for Canada. Bonilla’s header in the 30th minute was as close as the Central Americans would come in the opening 45.

For Canada, it was a rather lacklustre half. Apart from a spell between the 20th to 30th minute, the middle of the field was a struggle. The best the team looked came down the flanks, with Estaquio and Hutchinson looking sloppy in possession. As for El Salvador, it was a half of defending from the front with the hosts clogging the midfield. A number of half-chances and catching Canada on the break, as well as a scoreless draw at the break would have been a deal that Perez would have taken before kick-off.

Second half – Canada El Salvador Game had Two Goals

Neither side was able to carve out much coming out of the locker room, so John Herdman looked to his bench for the solution. Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchannan and Alistair Johnston made their way onto the pitch in the 58th minute. With Cyle Larin making his impact felt right away. Larin was sent down the right flank before delivering in a cross to Atiba Hutchinson. Hutchinson’s initial header was saved, however after falling over in the process, and a pair of deflections off Carabantes and Zavaleta, the ball bounced off the Canadian’s back and over the keeper to cross the line by now more than afoot. The 66-minute goal came against the run of play and during El Salvador’s best spell of the match.

As it’s Groundhog Day in Canada, it would only make sense for the team to replicate the finish from Sunday. David picked up the ball inside his own half in the 94-minute and took it the distance on a breakaway. A calm chipped finish sealed a 2-0 win for Canada and a full nine points from this window.

Last Word – Canada El Salvador Game

An unfortunate result for the El Salvadorians, as for most of the second half they were the dominating side. An unfortunate goal conceded and a last-second nail in the coffin were the difference makers on Wednesday. However, an improved second-half including a handful of late chances were among the positives to take away from this match.  One lone win in this window has all but ended their chances of progressing onwards. Meanwhile, a perfect 9/9 points picked up, six goals scored and zero conceded, and an all but secured place in Qatar. Still undefeated, still top of the Octogonal, still without their superstar Alphonso Davies. Canada has started to turn its focus away from qualifying and almost towards its FIFA rankings and trying to get into Pot 3 for the World Cup Draw.

They will have to wait until March to officially book their place. But it’s coming to Canada.

Photo credit: Canada Soccer on February 2, 2022.