Neil Davidson – The Canadian Press
Canada put on a show Sunday, qualifying for the men’s World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan and Junior Hoilett scored as the Canadians had their way with an outmatched Jamaica side in a 4-0 win before a loud and proud sellout crowd of 29,122 on a chilly day at BMO Field. A Jamaican own goal in the 89th minute padded the score.
And the margin of victory could have been far more lopsided.
Canada (8-1-4, 28 points in the final CONCACAF qualifying round) dominated from the get-go, stacking scoring chances like firewood. The home side was up 1-0 after 13 minutes and 2-0 at the break. It could have been 4-0 midway through the first half when the sun made its first appearance.
Jamaica (1-7-5, eight points) spent the afternoon in reverse. The game was done and dusted after the first half.
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The historic win came 37 years after Canada qualified for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with a 1-0 victory over Honduras on Sept. 14, 1985, in St. John’s, N.L. That marked the Canadian men’s lone trip to the soccer showcase, where they lost all three games without scoring a goal.
Canada soccer has been on a high with the sixth-ranked Canadian women winning gold last summer at the Tokyo Olympics. Now the 33rd-ranked men, led by coach John Herdman, get their time to shine in Qatar, while lengthening their runway to the 2026 World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting with the U.S., and Mexico.
The Canadian men, who lead the eight-country final round-robin, also had a chance to seal qualification on Thursday in Costa Rica but lost 1-0 after playing two-thirds of the game with 10 men in the wake of Mark-Anthony Kaye’s red card.
It marked the lone blemish on their qualifying road. Going into Sunday’s match, Canada had outscored its opposition 50-7 while posting 11 clean sheets in 18 qualifying games over three rounds (13-1-4).
On a cold day, Canada came out hot and was rewarded for its dominance in the 13th minute when, after a lightning-fast counterattack, Hoilett squared the ball to Stephen Eustaquio who threaded the needle to put Larin behind the defence. The Besiktas forward calmly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Andre Blake for his 24th goal for Canada, extending his national men’s scoring record.
Buchanan made it 2-0 in the 44th minute as Jamaica failed to deal with a free-kick that the Club Brugge winger had earned after being chopped down in the midst of several stepovers. A defender headed Eustaquio’s free-kick away, but it went straight to Jonathan David, whose cross dropped at Buchanan’s feet in front of goal.
He celebrated the goal with his trademark backflip.
Hoilett made it 3-0 in the 83rd after Buchanan nicked the ball off a defender following a corner and fed the veteran Hoilett, who slashed through the penalty box and beat Blake for his 14th goal for Canada.
Adrian Mariappa’s failed attempt at a clearance off a Sam Adegukbe cross ended up in the Jamaican goal to make it 4-0.
In later games Sunday, it was Costa Rica at El Salvador, Panama at the U.S. and Mexico at Honduras.
The Canadians, who wrap up qualifying Wednesday in Panama, only needed a draw Sunday to qualify. Other qualification routes were if Costa Rica failed to win or a Panama victory over the U.S.
The top three teams qualify for Qatar as representatives of North and Central America and the Caribbean while the fourth-place finisher takes on an Oceania side in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
A blanket of snow greeted players and fans in Toronto when they woke up Sunday, although almost all of had disappeared by kickoff. Thanks to BMO Field’s underground heating, there was just a dusting of white in parts of the patchy field.
There were light flurries at kickoff. Somehow the conditions made it more Canadian.
“Our House. Our Day. All of Canada is with you,” Canada Soccer tweeted in a video heralding the game, accompanied by the sounds of “Coming Home” by Diddy and Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey.
The Canadians had dealt with worse in snowy Edmonton last November when they defeated Mexico and Costa Rica.
Still it was a chilly, windy afternoon with the temperature minus-five, feeling like minus-14 for the 4 p.m. ET kickoff. It didn’t faze Larin, Richie Laryea or substitute Alistair Johnston, who wore short-sleeved jerseys.
Canada flags flew proudly, with a few Ukraine ones dotting the sellout crowd.
Herdman made four changes to his starting lineup in Costa Rica, inserting defenders Scott Kennedy, Adekugbe and Doneil Henry and winger Hoilett. Adekugbe and Henry were suspended for the Costa Rica game.
Goalkeeper Milan Borjan took over as skipper from Atiba Hutchinson.
Canada wasted little time with Blake having to claw away an Adegukbe cross in the second minute. Blake then had to stop a fourth-minute Larin shot after a fine run by David, prompting chants of “Canada, Canada.”
David shot just wide in the 15th minute after another Canadian attack. Six minutes later, Buchanan shot high.
The crowd cheered when Borjan was finally called into the action to make a save in the 32nd minute.
Larin shot just wide after in the 38th minute, taking a cross from Adegukbe after a glorious ball from Hoilett found the fullback flying down the left flank.
The game grew more open as the first half wore on, with Jamaica finding some space in the Canadian end as the home side threw bodies forward-looking. Canada has 65 per cent possession in the first half and had an 11-2 edge in shots (4-1 in shots on target).
It was more of the same in the second half with Buchanan just missing a low cross from Larin across goal as play resumed. David shot wide minutes later.
Henry limped off in the 62nd minute, with Herdman going to his bench. Borjan wasted little time giving up the captain’s armband when Hutchinson came on for his 94th cap, extended his Canadian men’s record. Chants of “Atiba, Atiba” followed.
Blake stopped substitute Lucas Cavallini in the 82nd minute, with chants of “Ole, Ole” from the crowd. Buchanan then tried to flick a corner home from the near post.
The Canadian men qualified the hard way this time. While CONCACAF powerhouses like Mexico and the U.S. got a bye to the final round, Canada had to start at the bottom in the region.
Herdman’s team had to dispatch Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Suriname and Haiti just to reach the final round of qualifying for the first time since the lead-up to France ’98.
“If we look at it the right way, it just could be one hell of a story,” Herdman said prophetically in July 2019 when CONCACAF revamped its qualifying procedure.
Thursday marked the four-year anniversary of Herdman’s first game in charge of the men, a 1-0 win over New Zealand in Murcia, Spain, before just 75 people. His record at the men’s helm now stands at 29-7-4 with the only losses to the U.S. (twice), Mexico (twice), Costa Rica, Haiti and Iceland.
Already qualified in the 32-team men’s World Cup field are host Qatar, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay.
Canada has been to seven of eight women’s World Cups, missing out only on the inaugural event in 1991. The women finished fourth at the 2003 tournament in the U.S.
Jamaica was one of five teams to receive a bye to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying but had managed just one win — a 2-0 decision in Honduras on Oct. 13.
The Canadian men were ranked 73rd in the world, compared to No. 47 for Jamaica, when they started World Cup qualifying in March 2021. Today Canada is 33rd while Jamaica is No. 62.
Still, there was hope in the Jamaican camp.
“Fearless Reggae Boyz to Spoil Canadian Party” was the headline in Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper.
Canada drew Jamaica 0-0 when the teams met Oct. 10 at the National Stadium in Kingston. The Canadian men improved to 10-6-7 all-time against Jamaica including 7-0-2 on home soil.
The Reggae Boyz are led by interim coach Paul Hall, who played for Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Jamaica was missing Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey, absent due to a personal issue, with West Ham star forward Michail Antonio one of several other high-profile absentees. Vancouver Whitecaps fullback Javain Brown started for the visitors.
Canada was without Kaye, suspended after being sent off for two yellows in Costa Rica.
feature image via Nathan Dennette/The Canadian Press