Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team took on Costa Rica in a massive CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in Edmonton on Friday. Here’s what stood out from that one, a big 1-0 Canadian win, one where they took a big step towards potentially qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
It’s the kind of win that goes such a long way towards one’s World Cup hopes.
As far as victories go, it might not be one that they’ll look back fondly on, but make no mistake, Canada Soccer’s Men’s National Team’s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday is massive, even if it might not feel that way quite yet.
Played in a frosty Edmonton, where the temperatures were hovering around the freezing level at kick-off on Friday, Canada were looking to create some much-needed separation between themselves and a close rival in their hunt for the World Cup with a victory.
As part of the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, it was a game that Canada needed to win, so for them to go out and do just that is huge, as they’ve now cemented their spot in the top 3 at the halfway mark of the Octo.
If they can hold on to that position through the rest of the 7 games that await them here, that’ll mean that they’ll return to the World Cup for the first time since 1986, as the top 3 teams from this Octo will go to Qatar, while the 4th will go to the intercontinental playoffs, making it imperative that they hold on to at minimum a top 4 spot, if not a top 3 one.
And if they keep playing as they did on Friday, they should be in a great position to do that. Despite the cold, and Costa Rica’s desire to make life difficult for them at every moment, they did well to fight through that and grab all 3 points, marking an overall complete performance.
But that’s this Canadian team for you. Before, they’d struggle massively in a game like this, dropping points in the process, but here, they just ignored that, finding a way to get the job done.
And now, thanks to that, they can continue to dream of the World Cup, a dream that seems to get closer and closer to reality by the day.
Plus, ahead of a clash with Mexico in Edmonton on Tuesday, it gives them the belief that they can now beat Mexico for the first time since 2000, especially if they have another gritty performance like this.
But before they look ahead too far to that one, they’ve got plenty to reflect on from this game, however, one that’ll certainly provide all sorts of learning moments, both good and bad, ahead of then.
And speaking of that, here’s some of what stood out to us from this game for us, one that Canada won’t soon forget, giving them a big boost on their road towards Qatar.
Edmonton crowd comes up big for this one:
And to start, it’s important to shout out the crowd, who certainly played a big role in this victory for Canada.
Starting from a few hours before the game, all the way through to the end, the Canadian fans brought the noise in this game, and it made a huge difference for their team.
Long before the game even began, fans were lined up outside of Commonwealth Stadium, eager to get in for this match. Despite the cold, which was certainly starting to creep in, that didn’t deter the Canadian faithful, who came into this game eager to cheer on their team.
So it was no surprise to see that by the time the match kicked off, the stadium was packed, as most of the 48 806 who were in attendance made sure to bring the noise early and often in this game.
Right from the time that both teams took the field for warmups, right to the final whistle, the Canadian fans brought the noise for this game, and it seemed to give a nice boost to the players, many of whom were really seeming to feel the cold.
On a night that was pegged to be special right from when it was announced, it certainly lived up to that atmosphere-wise, giving those who attended plenty to remember.
“We have to say a massive thank you to the Edmonton fans,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, said after the game.
“The atmosphere was electric. Absolutely electric”
Slow start a cause for concern:
But while there was all sorts of noise being made off of the field, the same can’t be said for on it, at least to start the game, as both teams combined for a very cagey first half.
The halftime stats suggest as much, too. Through the first 45, the possession was 66% to 34% in Canada’s favour, but despite that, the shots were actually 5-4 to Costa Rica, and the Ticos had the lone shot on target in the half, while Canada were yet to get any, period.
To be fair to Canada, they did hit a crossbar in the 15th minute, but that actually came off of a Costa Rican head, originating from a corner.
And that would be a theme for Canada. They did have a few decent looks off of set pieces, but were generating next to nothing in open play, as Costa Rica did an excellent job of shutting things down and slowing down the game.
Other than a few individual bursts forward, it just felt like Canada didn’t have the usual sharpness in attack that they’ve quickly become known for, and that certainly hurt them going forward.
Because of that, it made it interesting to see how they’d adjust in the second half.
This wasn’t as if this was the first time as they had this sort of problem, as heading into this game, they’d only scored 4 of their 10 goals this Octo in the first half, but it was certainly frustrating, as it felt like the longer this game stayed this way, it’d play into Costa Rica’s hands.
So off the back of that, it all of a sudden put a lot of pressure on Canada to come out strong in the second half, grabbing a goal or 2 (or 3 or 4), or else this game could easily get away from them.
Second half yields offensive explosion.
And to give credit to Canada, they certainly responded to that pressure.
Sensing that they needed to push, they came out flying in the second half, daring Costa Rica to try and stop them, and to give credit, that’d eventually pay off for them.
First, it came via a warning shot, one that nearly blew the roof off of the place.
After a long shot from Mark Anthony Kaye, one that would get deflected by a Costa Rican defender, the ball fell right to Tajon Buchanan in the box, but there’d just be one problem – the ball was about 5 feet above his head, and his back to goal.
But then, he got creative. Instead of trying to take a touch, he instead unleashed a bicycle kick, and he’d make fantastic contact on the ball, looping it onto the crossbar, but unluckily for him, it’d bounce out instead of in, leaving fans to wonder what could’ve been.
Plus, with that being Canada’s 2nd crossbar of the game, you couldn’t help but wonder if that’d be a theme for them on the night, one where they’d just question what went wrong as they dragged themselves to a disappointing result.
So naturally, looking to avoid that fate, then up popped up Jonathan David.
After a cross into the box from Stephen Eustaquio, Costa Rica’s goalkeeper, Leonel Moreira, struggled to get up for it, dropping what seemed like a routine ball, one that fell right to David.
And from there, the rest was inevitable. Aware of his surroundings, David calmly looked up and buried the ball home into the bottom left corner on his left foot, before running off to the corner flag in celebration, where he and his teammates would take in the noise made by their supporters.
“It’s brilliant, at the club level, he’s in great form,” Herdman said of David afterwards”
“He knows that he has to be in the areas when the opportunity comes, and when he’s in those areas, we know what’s going to happen.”
It was a much-needed goal for Canada, too,as not only did they get the crowd going again, but they seemed to give themselves some extra jump in their step at the same time, giving them the belief that they could not only win this game, but do so with multiple goals.
That nearly ended up materializing almost immediately, too, as they then nearly added a 2nd in the 65th minute, as Alphonso Davies then had a chance just inside the box on the volley after a nice cross from out wide, but he sent his shot just over the goal, much to the disappointment of the Edmonton faithful, who wanted to see their hometown hero bag a goal.
But then, with the lead in the bag, you could only wonder if Canada had what it took to hang on or add to their lead, allowing them to pick up a massive result.
And from there, other than a late chance from second-half substitute Cyle Larin that went in the net but was cancelled due to a handball, along with a dangerous opportunity from fellow sub, Iké Ugbo, that flashed just past the post, they did just that, giving up next to nothing to the Costa Ricans in the process.
Thanks to that, they were able to pick up a massive win, one that could be huge in their overall quest to the World Cup, especially considering where they now sit at the halfway point of the Octo.
It might not have been their prettiest win this year, but it was most definitely one of their most important ones, as Canada came up big when they needed to, allowing them to make it happen.
Sam Adekugbe continues to impress:
And speaking of players that were huge to this victory for Canada, there might have been none who stepped up bigger than Sam Adekugbe, who was massive for Canada in this game.
Although the big homecoming of today’s game was certainly Alphonso Davies’s, and rightfully so, it’s worth noting that this was also a homecoming of sorts for Adekugbe, too, who grew up in the province, too.
So seeing that, it maybe shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the 26-year-old step up as big as he did, but boy did he ever.
Deployed as a left back in the 4-4-2, he essentially operated as a left wing back, and he filled that role to a tee, roaming up and down that left touchline all night.
From his work defensively, where he was a force, both in the air and on the ground, to his play offensively, where he seemingly found himself involved in most Canadian attacks, it was hard not to notice Adekugbe in this game, as he was immense.
Yet, that’s been Adekugbe this year, for both club and country.
Having recently made a move to Hatayspor in the Turkish top flight after a few strong seasons in Norway’s top-flight with Valerenga, he’s found a new gear this year, and he’s shown that every time he plays with Canada.
There’s a reason why Hatayspor is currently 2nd in the Turkish Super Lig, and Adekugbe has played a big part in that, and as we saw in this game, that play is translating over to Canada.
That’s great news for Adekugbe, who is certainly going to see the pitch a lot more in the future, and great news for Canada, too, who have another solid option to rely on, only adding to their quickly growing depth.
“He was our MOTM tonight, Herdman admitted after the game. “He (Adekugbe) showed that he can find a new level in that Canadian shirt”
Otherwise, it was quite the interesting night for Canada tactically, where it was certainly a mixed bag performance in terms of their set-up.
On one hand, they were quite good defensively for most of the game, doing a good job of limiting Costa Rica’s attackers from getting into space throughout most of the night.
Sitting nice and compact in their 4-4-2, they did well at pressing the Costa Ricans all over the pitch, and while that aggressiveness did nearly cost them on a few occasions, as they gave up a few cheap set pieces and picked up some needless yellow cards, it mostly kept their opponents quiet.
But that’s just what this Canadian team does. There’s a reason why they were able to pick up their 3rd clean sheet in 7 games this Octo, and why they haven’t conceded more than 1 goal in a game over that span, either, with how they defend playing a big part in that, as we saw in this game.
At the other end of the pitch, though, it was a lot more interesting of a story for Canada, who had their ups and downs in that area of their game.
Set up in an aggressive 3-5-2 that sometimes looked like a 2-4-4, Canada did well to send numbers forward all night, and when they created overloads with the Costa Rican defenders, they were deadly.
The problem, however, was that they also dallied on the ball too much, slowing the game right down on several occasions, especially in the first half, which played right into the Costa Rican’s hands.
On a positive note, though, Canada did fix that in the second half, where they were excellent, but it was frustrating to see them struggle as they did in the first half, especially when some of the problems felt familiar.
For example, take Canada rolling with a 2-man midfield pivot of Stephen Eustaquio and Mark Anthony Kaye, instead of using a 3-man midfield group as they have for most of this Octo.
As seen heading into this game, everyone knew that Costa Rica was going to try and slow the game down, making it imperative that Canada control the midfield, so to see Canada really struggle in that area in the first half was tough, especially considering that it was of their own doing.
So while they recovered by making a few adjustments, you can only wonder what this game could’ve looked like if they came out with a 3-man midfield from the first whistle, allowing them to break through that resolute Costa Rican low block.
Otherwise, though, it was a good game from Canada, but that was a small detail that could’ve proven to be costly had Costa Rica been able to do something with it, so while it was good to see Canada adjust on the fly, it’s something to keep an eye on for the future.
In the Mixer:
Elsewhere, here are some bits and bobs that stood out to us from this game.
- To start, shout out to Atiba Hutchinson for earning his 89th cap as a Canadian player in this game when he came on as a substitute in the second half, tying him for 1st all-time with Julian De Guzman. For a player who has been so loyal to his country over the years, it was so fitting to see him come on to a big ovation in front of the Edmonton faithful, making it a moment to remember. With him now set to break the all-time appearances record in Canada’s next game on Tuesday, too, this also set the table nicely for that night, too, where you can only imagine that the noise will be deafening, and rightfully so given how much of a Canadian legend Hutchinson is.
- Otherwise, shout out to Milan Borjan for going full Gabor Kiraly with the grey sweatpants in this game, giving him the power to help get this clean sheet. Or maybe they didn’t, but let’s just imagine they did, adding themselves to Canadian Soccer folklore in the process.
- Credit to David for scoring his 7th goal of these World Cup qualifiers in this game, which is good for 3rd in all of CONCACAF. For someone who’s had some pretty vicious slumps this year, for him to score his 2nd goal in 2 games was huge, as he’s arguably played 2 of his best games over that span. That’s massive news for this Canadian team, who need his offence, and that’s shown in the fact that all 3 of their wins this Octo have come in games when he’s scored. So now, they’ll want him to keep on scoring, continuing his assault on the Canadian all-time top goalscoring charts, of which he sits 4th with 18 goals after this game, sitting just 4 goals away from Dwayne De Rosario in first. At this rate, you just imagine that he’ll break that record pretty soon, and this night was a good example of why.
- Lastly, credit to Canada for continuing to embrace the dark arts of CONCACAF, and still come out with a win. That would not have been the case a few years ago…
So overall, there was a lot to like in this game for Canada. While they would’ve most certainly loved this game to be much more comfortable than it was, a win in CONCACAF is never to be sniffed at, especially against a team of Costa Rica’s quality.
At the end of the day, there’s a reason why all of their games this Octo have been decided by 1 goal, and this was an example of that, so good for Canada on managing to find a way to come up on top despite that.
Now, that puts them in a great position as they arrive at the halfway point of the Octo, only boosting their World Cup hopes, which only seem to grow by the day.
Obviously, the job is far from done, but it’s nights like these that certainly inspire the belief that they can make it that far, making it a key moment on their journey towards the World Cup, one that continues on next week with that massive game with Mexico.
Up Next: Canada vs Mexico, Tuesday, November 16th, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT, 19:00 CST (Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton)