While Canada will have to wait a bit longer for their first-ever win at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, their hopes of advancing to the knockout stages are alive and well after a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Austria in their group-stage opener in Dubai on Saturday.
Canada started the game brightly, forcing the Austrians to commit a number of fouls and generating several good scoring chances in the first 20 minutes. Vancouver Whitecaps Residency product Marco Bustos saw his close-range shot in the 10th minute turned away by Austria goalkeeper Alexander Schlager, who was also at full stretch in the 19th minute to repel a dangerous volley from another Whitecaps Residencey player Kianz Froese.
Toronto FC academy forward Jordan Hamilton spurned a good opportunity two minutes later, as he stole the ball from 30 yards out and cut in on goal, but lofted his shot well over. The soccer gods stepped in to punish the Canadians for their wastefulness soon after, as Sascha Horvath opened the scoring for Austria in the 28th minute, blasting a half-volley in off the crossbar for a 1-0 lead.
Austria nearly doubled the advantage two minutes later, but the soccer gods were kinder to Canada on this occasion, as Daniel Ripic’s shot hit the inside of the goal post and came back out.
Hanson Boakai had Canada’s best chance of the first half in the 33rd minute when he was sprung on a breakaway, but Schlager read his movement and claimed the ball before the midfielder could take a shot. Horvath’s goal lifted the Austrians, who carried the bulk of the momentum in the opening 45 minutes.
Things opened way up after the break, with Canada getting its breakthrough in the 53rd minute. Hamilton did well to control a looping ball inside the area and his low left-footed shot eluded Schlager.
Four minutes later, Froese’s footwork earned a penalty, which was coolly converted by Toronto FC academy defender Eli Roubos to give the Canadians a 2-1 lead.
The joy was fleeting, though, as Austria struck back in the 61st minute; Nikola Zivotic beat Canada goalkeeper Marco Carducci with an impressive scissors kick to equalize. Once again, scoring seemed to empower the Austrians, who began asserting themselves in possession as the second half wore on.
Even so, Bustos nearly had a winner for Canada in the 72nd minute, but his left-footed strike boomed back off the crossbar. Austria had its own decisive moment in the 85th minute, when Horvath was left unmarked from 18 yards out, but cracked the ball well high. Two minutes later, Michael Endlicher slalomed into the Canadian area but pushed his shot just wide of the post.
Despite the nervy moments – and plenty of cramps for members of both teams in the UAE heat – in the game’s waning minutes, the final whistle provided both sides with a well-deserved point and plenty of hope heading into their second group-stage matches.
Canada meets Iran on Tuesday, while Austria squares off with the group favourites, Argentina.
Daniel Squizzato covers Canadian national teams for MLSsoccer.com.