VANCOUVER, B.C. -- They don’t ask how, they just ask how many—and that adage has perhaps never been more meaningful than it was for Canada on Friday night.
A bizarre, deflected goal was enough for the Canadians to open the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 win in front of 20,108 fans at BC Place in Vancouver. Will Johnson got credit, though the last touch appeared to come off the backside of Cyle Larin, laying on the ground in the Honduran goal area.
With Mexico’s 3-0 win over El Salvador, Canada sit second in Group A, ahead of their match in San Salvador on Tuesday. Honduras head back home to face El Tri that same day.
In front of a raucous crowd led by a boisterous contingent of the Voyageurs, Canada controlled the possession in the early going. That led to the first decent chance of the game in the 11th minute, when Junior Hoilett and Atiba Hutchinson worked a one-two down the left wing, and Hoilett won a dangerous free kick. But Marcel de Jong lofted the set piece into the waiting arms of Honduran keeper Noel Valladares.
The Canadians tested their luck somewhat in the first half, hitting plenty of backpasses—and they nearly got burned in the 27th minute, when Carlos Discua capitalized on an Adam Straith turnover and cracked a shot just high of Milan Borjan’s goal.
Canada hit back four minutes later; an excellent cross-field pass from Hutchinson found Julian de Guzman unmarked 30 yards in front of goal. Valladares stretched to make an excellent save, parrying the Ottawa Fury midfielder’s shot over the bar.
In the 38th minute, Canada had their breakthrough. Hoilett did more good work on the left wing, sending in an excellent cross that found the head of Johnson, then the back of a prone Larin and, eventually, the back of the Honduran goal.
Honduras had the first opportunity of the second half, with Erick Andino getting sight of Borjan’s goal from 20 yards out within the first minute. But the midfielder lifted his shot harmlessly over the crossbar.
Canada hit back with an outstanding chance in the 63rd minute, when Johnson demolished a 35-yard free kick at the Honduran goal, but Valladares’s fingertips were enough to push it off the post and deny the Portland Timbers captain the second goal of the night.
Another chance came 10 minutes later, when de Jong swung in a free kick that found Dejan Jakovic unmarked, but it took a late bounce and ended up going harmlessly wide. Honduras came right back down the field and had their own chance through substitute Mario Martinez, but his long-distance effort sailed high.
Martinez came close again in the 76th minute, sending a long-range diagonal shot that nearly caught Borjan off his line, but the Canadian keeper got back to push it over the bar. Then, five minutes later, he launched another long-range effort that forced Borjan into a diving save.
Despite Martinez’s attempts to single-handedly get his team back in the game, Canada held on for a nervy final portion of the match to send the fans home happy. The outcome of Friday’s game won’t wash away years of bitter memories for Canada in World Cup qualifiers, but it certainly got their quest toward Russia 2018 off on the right foot.