A record crowd is set to be attendance at BC Place in Vancouver as Canada looks to get valuable World Cup qualifying points on the board and possibly a historic win over Mexico on Friday. More than 54,000, the most ever for a men’s national team game in Canada, is expected for what could be a defining night in the recent history of Canadian soccer.
Canada has only ever qualified for one World Cup, in 1986, and hasn’t even made it into the final round of Concacaf qualifying since 1998. There is renewed hope this time around, however. Benito Floro, a Spanish former coach of Real Madrid, took over coaching duties following a humiliating 8-1 loss in Honduras that ended Canada’s qualifying hopes for the last World Cup in Brazil and has guided the team to an impressive set of results.
The team has lost just two of its last 13 matches, both by a solitary goal. More importantly, Canada began the semifinal round of qualification with a 1-0 win over a Honduras side that has qualified for the last two World Cups. Having followed up that result with a creditable goalless draw in El Salvador, Canada remains on course to earn a top-two spot from the group to progress to the final round Hexagonal. With points on the road likely to be a tricky prospect, however, Friday’s home match with current Concacaf champions Mexico promises to be a pivotal contest.
“If we can come out here and put in a good performance and get a good result, I think it will be a huge statement,” veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who plays with Turkish club Beşiktaş, said. “We believe that we can do it, we just need to go out there and show it. So it will be the perfect stage for us to show it.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but saying that I think the boys have a lot of confidence. We’ve been together for a while now. Some new faces have come in as well, but they’ve got some experience. We’re going to have to have a good start to the game, and continue to do what we’ve been doing in the past. Hopefully everything clicks.”
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One of the new faces to have joined the squad is Scott Arfield. The Scottish-born midfielder recently switched his allegiance to the birthplace of his father, and brings with him experience of playing in the English Premier League last season with Burnley.
The challenge of taking on Mexico, though, promises to be anything but straightforward. El Tri has gone unbeaten in its last 15 games, winning its last five, including taking maximum points from its first two qualifiers, at home to El Salvador and away in Honduras. Those qualifiers were also the first matches in charge for coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who took over following the short interim spell of Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti.
Osorio has not called up three of Mexico’s biggest names for the double-header with Canada, which also takes in a return match at the Estadio Azteca next Tuesday, with Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos and Guillermo Ochoa all absent. There is, though, still a core of talent currently playing at a high level in Europe, including Javier “Chicharito” Hernández , who has fired 23 goals so far in his debut season with Bayer Leverkusen. Joining them is an exciting crop of young players. As well as the already established Jesús “Tecatico” Corona, pushing for a starting role in Vancouver is fellow winger Hirving Lozano. The 20-year-old Pachuca starlet marked his international debut with an assist against Senegal last month, and comes into this latest squad fresh from scoring a hat-trick for his club last week.
Osorio, though, has made it clear that his focus is on gaining maximum points from the next two matches, which would secure Mexico’s place in the Hexagonal with two games to spare, and before this summer’s Copa America Centenario.
Match time: 10:08 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Univision Deportes, UniMás (USA), TSN2 (Canada)