It was the final match for the Canadian Men’s National Team in a qualification round that could take them to the Hex: a 6-team battle to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. With the team sitting at -5 goals and 3 points shy of securing a spot, today’s match against El Salvador was vital to keeping hope alive. It was widely believed that Mexico would easily down Honduras, having already eliminated El Salvador from contention, so this match would prove to be Canada’s last chance to turn the tide. With the Mexico match happening at the same time, it would be a nail-biter for Canadian soccer fans.
El Salvador wasted no time with a quick rush in the 1st minute that was spoiled by a closing back line. The Canadians returned the rush in the 2nd minute, carrying the ball just a little too long and giving it back for a goal kick. In the 4th minute, El Salvador would take the first 4 corner kicks of the match, amounting to nothing thanks to Canada’s heavy defensive play. A run by Larin would give the Canadians their first corner kick in the 6th minute.
Scoring opened up late in the 11th minute thanks to a bungled defensive play by El Salvador and a great bounce to offside-but-not-really-offside Larin, who sent it deep into the net. Ceren, of El Salvador, would take the first yellow card of the match less than a minute later by downing two Canadian players in an overly aggressive battle for the ball near midfield. At 21:30 a free kick from El Salvador was sent high over the Canadian net, something which the team graciously returned at 25:30.
A great chance was fed to Larin in the 29′, but was sent high. A 3-on-3 run in the 31′ gave Canada another great chance, but the cross flew just ahead of the play. A header from Ricketts in the 32′ flew just wide of the goal. The Canadians were looking really good and deserving of a 2nd goal throughout the rest of the half. Shot after shot continued to rain toward the El Salvador goal with de Jong, Larin, and Ricketts taking turns sending it on target. Hoilett, Henry and Arfield took their turns as well, but sadly no Canadian player could find the back of the net before the half-time whistle. With the Mexico vs Honduras match still sitting at a 0-0 draw, even with the Canadian’s fantastic offensive play, things looked grim as the players went to the locker room.
Unlike the 1st half, the 2nd half started slowly with the teams feeling each other out. The first chance didn’t come until the 50′, with a free kick from Arfield that Henry tapped well wide of the net. In the 53′ the ball travelled from one side of the El Salvador box to the other, and a trip sent it to Ledgerwood who buried it giving Canada a 2-0 lead.
In the 56′ Ceren of El Salvador kicked Hoilett in the shins and took a second yellow card. The El Salvadore captain was ejected with a red and the team would play with only 10-men. Bonilla also took a yellow, likely for mouthing off at the referees. In the 63′ Larin takes a yellow card while the El Salvador player (the other Ceren) nursed an imaginary wound. Lots of time-wasting from El Salvador dragged out over 2′ of play. With no chances or success by the 74′, Larin was subbed out for Haber and Piette would replace Ledgerwood.
By the 78′, El Salvador was quickly retaking the field, with Bonilla scoring despite the team being a man short. With a long time playing in Canada’s end, Hoilett was subbed out for Edgar in the 81′ marking Canada’s final change of the match. Canada’s first chance since Ceren was sent off in the 56′ would not come until the 85′. With most of the chances belonging to El Salvador, Canada was looking like they were playing a man short throughout the half.
Bonilla nearly tied the match with a great shot at 90+1′, but it was Canada who would turn around and snag a 3rd goal courtesy of Edgar less than a minute later. It was another offside-but-not-offside chip, but the referees were as blind to the offside as they were to many of the brutal fouls committed throughout the match. El Salvador’s Larin took a yellow in the 90+5′ that triggered the two teams to converge upon one another, tempers flaring. Finally the game was called after 8 minutes of stoppage time.
Joyously, the Canadian Men’s National Team won with a final score of Canada 3 – 1 El Salvadore. Unfortunately, Mexico could only manage a tie against Honduras, thereby ending Canada’s journey on the road to Russia. There will be a lot of wound-licking after this match, and we’ll need to seriously look at how we can make it to Qatar for 2022. One suggestion would be to start by playing our players in the positions they know, instead of playing them to the opposite side of the field.