Following Canada’s 3-0 home loss to Mexico on Friday night, some Canadians are terrified about what awaits the team at Estadio Azteca in Tuesday night’s rematch (10:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, FS1 in US).
Tesho Akindele is not one of those Canadians.
“We control our own destiny,” Akindele told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Mexico City on Monday. “That’s the mentality. Everybody’s saying, ‘Look, we’re in a great spot, we have one of the best teams that Canada Soccer has ever had, and we’re pretty confident right now.”
Such talk seems incongruent with much of the lore about what visiting teams face at the Azteca – playing at altitude in front of upwards of 100,000 rabid Mexican fans. But in his first trip to Mexico as part of the Canadian team, Akindele so far only has positive things to say.
“We’re staying at a great hotel, food’s been great, there was a bunch of press at the airport taking pictures of us,” the FC Dallas man said. “Even a bunch of regular people at the airport wanted pictures. There’s been absolutely no problems here.”
Of course, taking selfies at the airport with Mexican fans is one thing (Akindele estimates he took five of them), but playing in front of them at the Azteca is another. The Canadian players have been doing special breathing exercises with the team’s medical staff to help prepare for playing at an elevation of over 7,000 feet; otherwise, Akindele says he’s trying to treat it like any other game.
“People have told me it’s an intimidating atmosphere with the stadium and the fans, but I’m not going to be sitting here worrying, worst-case scenario, how intimidating it might be,” he said. “We’ll see, when the time comes; I think we’ll all be able to deal with it.”
But even if Canada can deal with the altitude and the home crowd, there’s still the matter of El Tri, who asserted themselves in Friday’s lopsided victory at Vancouver’s BC Place. Akindele suspects his team will play more conservatively on Tuesday, after attempting to go “toe-to-toe” with Mexico last time.
“We need to bend, not break, because we’re going to have to absorb some pressure,” he said. “They might have the edge in possession and the edge in chances, but we need to be able to absorb that, and then when we do get our chances – ‘cause I guarantee, we’re going to get a couple of chances – we just need to finish them.”
A lack of finishing hurt Canada on Friday, when both Junior Hoilett and Cyle Larin squandered excellent scoring opportunities in the early going. But Akindele, a fellow attack-minded player, believes his teammates will be able to fully shrug those off.
“We’ve all scored a lot of goals and we’ve all missed a lot of chances [in our careers],” he said. “At this point, we understand it’s just part of the game.”
Whether Canada’s revised approach can earn them an unlikely result at the Azteca remains to be seen. But for fans worrying that a loss would doom Canada’s hopes of advancing to the Hexagonal stage, Akindele is preaching a message of calm.
“No matter what happens in this game, our destiny is still in our hands,” he said. “We’re obviously coming out with the mindset that we need to get a result, but no matter what happens, we still hold the cards in our hands. We can still get to the Hex.”