Here’s a synopsis Canadian fans should be accustomed to hearing by now: “Canada earned a draw at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.”
A 1-1 result against Iran on Tuesday was the Canadian Under-17 national team’s fourth straight draw in U-17 World Cup play, dating back to the 2011 tournament. They’re the first team to ever do so in the competition, but it’s not the sort of history they were hoping to make – Canada are still searching for their first-ever U-17 World Cup win in 17 matches.
Still, the valiant effort against the Iranians means Canada’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stages for the first time are still alive as they head into their final group-stage match on Friday.
Head coach Sean Fleming made three changes to his starting lineup from Canada's tournament opener against Austria, with FC Dallas Academy fullback Eric Davies replacing Jose Lopez, Vancouver Whitecaps Academy member Matthew Chow replacing fellow Whitecaps prospect Marco Bustos, and Andrew Gordon coming in for another Whitecaps youngster, Jordan Haynes.
The Canadians burst out of the gate against Iran, intent on gaining an early advantage. FC Edmonton’s Hanson Boakai – who caused all sorts of problems for Iran all game long – slalomed in on goal in the fifth minute, but a last-minute sliding tackle prevented him from taking a good shot.
It was Iran, though, who had the early breakthrough – as they did against Argentina on Saturday – when the Canadian defense failed to shut down Amirhossein Karimi and he blasted a strike from 30 yards in the ninth minute to make it 1-0.
Goalkeeper Marco Carducci (above), another Vancouver Whitecaps Residency player, had to come up big, literally and figuratively, to deny Ali Hazami in the 31st minute. Shortly after, Saeid Ezatolahi cracked a spinning free kick just wide.
Canada came out flying to start the second half as well – and this time, they were rewarded. A corner kick was flicked on by TFC Academy defender Elias Roubos and into the path of Hamilton, who slotted home the equalizer in the 48th minute for his second goal of the tournament.
As the second half wore on, the Canadians began wilting in the Middle Eastern heat (temperatures approached 90 degrees at kickoff) as the Iranians gained strength and had multiple chances to find a winner.
Canada did find the back of the net in the 65th minute – but it didn’t count. Boakai took on two Iranian defenders along the right wing and swung in a cross that was headed home, but the assistant referee adjudged the ball to have gone out of play in the build-up.
Beyond those opportunities, it was largely one-way traffic, with Carducci and the goalposts sharing honors as the Canadian heroes in the second half.
In the 71st minute, Amir Mazloum punched through the defence and put his shot off the post; the rebound fell to Sasan Jafari, who had the whole net to aim for – but missed high. Minutes later, Majid Hosseini cracked a 30-yard shot off the post.
Iran poured on the pressure in the game’s final minutes as the Canadians ran out of gas, but Carducci came up with huge saves on Ali Gholizadeh and Yousef Seyyedi.
Canada held on until the final whistle, giving themselves an opportunity to advance to the Round of 16 with a result against Argentina on Friday (noon ET, Sportsnet World). While that seems like a big ask, Argentina did draw Iran by the exact same scoreline as Canada did, so Fleming will surely be preparing his troops for a major battle.
The top two finishers in Group E will automatically advance to the knockout stages, while the top four third-place finishers in the 24-team tournament will also advance.