TORONTO – Canada did enough to dispatch Belize on Friday night in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, winning 3-0 at BMO Field in the first leg of their series against the Central American side, but did little to dispel the anxious fears of a nation eager for a more impressive result.
Through the opening phase there was no doubt which side was at home and expected to progress, though, it must be admitted that the pre-match ceremony in honor of former Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario was the highlight of the first 20 minutes. The most noteworthy event on field was the early substitution of captain Julian de Guzman due to injury, as he was replaced by Samuel Piette just a quarter-hour into the match.
The Canadians dominated possession, moving the ball with ease, at least until the final third. Numerous wasted chances, combined with patient and compact defending from the Belizeans, began to grate on the fans in attendance, prompting a round of 'all we are saying, is give us a goal.'
In short order, Canada responded, finding the breakthrough in the 25th minute when Cyle Larin finally got a solid connection on the end of a cross, directing his header on target. Belize keeper Woodrow West met the effort with a firm hand, preventing it from crossing the line, but Piette followed in the chance, attempting to bundle it in. Between West and defender Trevor Lennen, they managed to prevent him doing so, only for Tosaint Ricketts to connect from one knee, guiding the ball in with a right-footed touch to give the Canadians a deserved lead. It was Ricketts' third goal in qualifying, having scored two in the second leg last round against Dominica.
The second half was more of the same, Canada passing around the visitors, only to be unable to find the final ball, misread intentions, take a heavy touch, or, once even nicking the ball off one another.
Another such moment came in the 64th minute when Larin's volley caromed off of Issey Nakajima-Farran, after he strayed into the firing line.
But Issey made near-immediate amends, playing wide to Nik Ledgerwood, who swung a low ball to the near-post where Ricketts was on hand to turn it in, doubling Canada's lead in the 65th minute with his fourth of the competition.
Will Johnson nearly made it three in the final seconds of regulation when his blast from the top of the box was tipped over by West, only for Atiba Hutchinson to do so from the ensuing corner kick, sliding to get a left-footed touch on a Russell Teibert ball put to the edge of the six-yard box.
Belize attempted only one shot on the night, and that was likely more of a cross, drifting well-wide of Kenny Stamatopoulos' goal.
The two sides will resume the series with the second leg set for next Tuesday at FFB Stadium in Belmopan, Belize.