After a dominant 3-0 win by Canada on Friday night, many believed Belize were dead and buried in their World Cup qualifying series.
But in Tuesday night’s second leg, the Jaguars showed plenty of heart in front of their home crowd. Ultimately, the 1-1 result was enough to see Canada through to the next round and end Belize’s dreams of reaching Russia 2018—but it was hardly the cakewalk that fans of Les Rouges might have hoped for.
As expected, head coach Benito Floro rolled with virtually the same lineup in the second leg as he used in the first leg. The only two changes were Samuel Piette in for Julian de Guzman, who left Friday’s game early with a minor calf injury, and Milan Borjan replacing Kenny Stamatopoulos in goal.
In the first leg, Belize rarely entered the Canadian half, and were outshot 25-0. On Tuesday, Canada had a decent spell of possession in the game’s opening minutes. But within the first 15 minutes on Tuesday, Belize looked more dangerous than in the entirety of the first leg, mounting numerous attacks on the Canadian goal.
That pressure paid off in the 21st minute when Deon McCaulay, Belize’s all-time leading scorer, got behind the Canadian defense, found himself in a one-on-one with Borjan, and slotted it past the ’keeper at the near post. It was McCaulay’s fourth goal of this qualifying campaign and 21st overall for his country; he led all CONCACAF scorers in 2014 World Cup qualifying with 11 goals.
Belize kept pressing, as bums across Canada got squeakier and squeakier with every passing minute. But just before the halftime break, Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson capitalized on a scramble inside the Belize area and found the bottom corner to equalize. It was Johnson’s fifth career goal for his country, and first since 2012.
That did little to kill the home side’s momentum, however; McCaulay nearly had his second goal just minutes into the second half, beating Borjan to a looped-in cross and heading just wide.
Fullback Marcel de Jong had a decent opportunity around the 50th minute, when his 25-yard free kick forced a diving save from goalkeeper Shane Moody. Then, around the 64th minute, Orlando City striker Cyle Larin danced around three defenders at the top of the penalty area and threaded a cross-field pass to Johnson, whose curling shot went just wide.
McCaulay was gifted with another golden opportunity around the 75th minute, when a poor back pass from defender David Edgar gave him a breakaway on Borjan, but the Canadian ’keeper managed to get a foot to it and keep the ball out.
Then in second-half injury time, McCaulay nearly gave his team a famous victory, when the ball fell to him from six yards out, but his header was excellently saved by Borjan.
In the end, Canada prevailed 4-1 on aggregate to advance to the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, in a group that includes Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. The Canadian team will open the round at home (in a yet-to-be-confirmed city) against Honduras on Nov. 13.
Game note: Vancouver Whitecaps youngster Sam Adekugbe came into the game as a late substitute, earning his first cap for Canada’s senior national team. The 20-year-old fullback is now cap-tied to Canada.