Even in defeat, Canada impressed.
And Sunday, John Herdman’s team can turn the disappointment of Thursday’s 1-0 loss in Costa Rica into celebration by dispatching Jamaica to secure World Cup qualification before a sellout crowd at Toronto’s BMO Field.
The numbers are clear for the 33rd-ranked Canadian men (7-1-4, 25 points). A draw against No. 62 Jamaica (1-6-5, eight points) and they book their ticket to Qatar 2022. They can still qualify with a loss if Costa Rica (5-3-4, 19 points) drops points at El Salvador (2-6-4, 10 points).
Even if Canada loses to both Jamaica and No. 63 Panama (5-4-3, 18 points) in Panama City next Wednesday and Costa Rica defeats El Salvador and the visiting U.S., the Costa Ricans would have to make up a considerable deficit in goal difference (Canada is plus-13 while Costa Rica is plus-two) with the teams tied at 25 points.
The top three teams in CONCACAF’s eight-country final round robin will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean in Qatar this November-December. The fourth-place finisher will take on an Oceana team in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
So barring a turnaround of biblical proportions, Canada — which tops the standings with a three-point cushion over the 13th-ranked U.S. and No. 12 Mexico and a six-point bulge over No. 42 Costa Rica — is hours away from ending its 36-year absence from the men’s World Cup.
“We’ll come out of this hungry,” Herdman said after Thursday’s game in San Jose. “We’re going into Canada and like (goalkeeper) Milan (Borjan) said after the game, it’s in the stars for us to do this at home, to qualify at home.
“So we’ll be back ready to fight with that extra fire in the belly now.”
The Canadian men have never lost a competitive match (11-0-5) at BMO Field.
Despite the loss Thursday, Canada had plenty to be proud about. Reduced to 10 men after midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye was sent off for a second yellow in the 34th minute, the Canadians took it to the Costa Ricans in the second half and charged hard for the equalizer that would have sent them to Qatar.
Canada outshot Costa Rica 14-6 (3-2 in shots on target) in the second half and finished with 68 per cent of possession despite playing with 10 men.
Herdman credited the Costa Ricans for their resolute defence in handing his team its first loss in 18 games (13-1-4) over three rounds of qualifying.
Richie Laryea and Tajon Buchanan were constant thorns in Costa Rica’s side and drove the Canadian attack from the flank.
Laryea’s performance was particularly impressive given his lack of playing time since moving to England’s Nottingham Forest in early January. The 27-year-old fullback/wingback has had a hard time cracking the lineup of a Forest team that has gone 10-2-3 since he joined them _ with the only losses against Liverpool, in FA Cup play, and Cardiff.
But against Costa Rica, it was the Laryea that Toronto FC fans are used to seeing. The wingback ran at the opposition, went for goal and was his spiky self all night.
It marked only the second time in five months that Laryea had played 90 minutes, Herdman noted.
Buchanan’s pace and guile were also a problem for Costa Rica.
The two almost combined on a Canadian goal in the 73rd minute when Laryea’s low shot forced a save from Keylor Navas and Buchanan’s header off the rebound hit the crossbar.
Like Laryea, Canada’s Stephen Eustaquio has been doing more watching than playing at Portugal’s FC Porto in recent weeks. And while there were a few passes that failed to find their mark, the influential midfielder delivered dangerous balls from set pieces, ran his socks off while showing his normal vision and nearly scored with a low angled shot that was just wide in the 64th minute.
Herdman praised both players, calling them “absolute warriors.”
Thursday’s game also demonstrated the importance of defender Steven Vitoria, who was on the bench but did not see action due to an injury he was carrying. At almost six foot five, Vitoria is a force in the air at both ends of the field and he was missed.
With Vitoria unavailable and Doneil Henry and Sam Adekugbe suspended, Herdman dropped captain Atiba Hutchinson from midfield to centre back. And while the 39-year-old skipper delivered his normal poised performance, Canada was vulnerable on set pieces.
Costa Rica’s Celso Borges, who stands six foot, rose above the five-foot-nine Eustaquio to head home the lone goal of the game in first-half stoppage time.
Hutchinson completed 95.7 per cent of his passes while midfielder Jonathan Osorio was good on 98.4 per cent.
The Canadian bench also delivered.
Veteran Junior Hoilett, entering with 20 minutes to go, added threat to the Canadian attack. And there was an impressive debut from 19-year-old CF Montreal midfielder Ismael Kone, who looked confident and completely at home after coming on in the 80th minute.
Kaye will sit out Sunday in the wake of Thursday’s ejection after his shoulder made contact with Johan Venegas as they crossed paths following an unsanctioned challenge by the Costa Rican that crumpled the Canadian. Venegas made the most of the shoulder contact, tumbling theatrically to the ground.
“He’ll learn from this. We love him. He’s our brother,” Herdman said of Kaye. “And we’ll stay together and we’ll fight together.”
Despite that costly red mist, Kaye showed his skill on the ball and ability to link up play.
As for the Costa Ricans, who came into the game unbeaten in four (3-0-1), they benefited from time together with the domestic league suspended for two weeks. And they knew a win was needed to keep their qualifying hopes alive.
Canada comes home looking to finish the job. The players know what’s at stake, Herdman said.
“They know they’re fighting for something they believe in, which is to qualify this team and put respect in that badge and in this football country. That brings us together,” he said after Thursday’s game.
“In short, this team cares. They care about this opportunity. And they wanted nothing more than to bring this home for the country. They wanted it tonight, but they’ll do it this weekend.”