It may not have been pretty, but Canada ultimately got the job done.
A 1-1 draw in Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier was enough to see the Canadians past Belize (4-1 on aggregate) and into the fourth round of qualification in the CONCACAF region.
But after a dominant 3-0 win in the first leg against the Central American minnows, Canada simply needed to hold on in Belmopan, to preserve their advantage. In fact, an early goal from Belize’s all-time goal-scoring leader, Deon McCaulay, even raised the terrifying specter of a potential loss on aggregate – and early World Cup elimination.
“The match was very difficult,” said Canadian head coach Benito Floro in a press release. “We kept the ball as much as possible because Belize have a good counterattack and a dangerous player [McCaulay].”
McCaulay had four excellent scoring chances on the evening – timely saves from Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan were all that separated the Belize striker from notching two or even three goals.
On the other end, though, a crucial goal from Canadian midfielder Will Johnson moments before the halftime break helped put the minds of the visiting team (and its fans) somewhat at ease.
“It was nice to get the goal and it was good timing as they just had some pressure,” said Johnson. “It was good to get the goal just before the half.”
Games in Central America have traditionally been a sore spot for the Canadian team, which hasn’t won in the region since late 2004. Even a non-powerhouse such as Belize appeared to gain strength and confidence from playing at home, after being thoroughly outplayed four days earlier at Toronto’s BMO Field.
“We knew on this pitch [at FFB Stadium] that they were going to play well,” said Floro.
It wasn’t only the manager who felt that homefield advantage provided Belize with a massive boost.
“They were difficult conditions,” said striker Cyle Larin. “But you just have to go out there and get the job done.”
The conditions will surely be even tougher in the next round, when Canada face a group that includes Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. And though they weren’t able to break through and finally end the Central American curse, confidence remains that the team is at least on the right track.
“We created lots of chances,” said Larin. “We played well and we got the point on the road to get us to the next round.”