Three months after a disastrous June camp marred by a player boycott over a contractual lacuna, one might have expected Canada to be a bit rusty against Qatar on Friday.
Goals from Cyle Larin and Jonathan David in the opening 13 minutes undid that as the Canadian men drove to a comfortable 2-0 win over the World Cup co-hosts. The only point of criticism would be that Canada, as world number 43. against Qatar, No. 48, could have scored more.
“We knew the first 20 minutes would be a challenge given how organized and disciplined Qatar are,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “But I think our players rose to the challenge tonight.”
The Canadians will face a tougher test on Tuesday when they take on No. 13 Uruguay in Bratislava, Slovakia.
“It’s going to be a tough test,” Herdman said. “But this is the stuff we dream of. We’ve been playing against CONCACAF opponents for four years. All players have dreamed of playing against teams like Uruguay, Brazil or Argentina throughout their international career. This is the stuff we’ve been waiting for.
“For us it’s a cup final against Uruguay, similar to Belgium or Croatia (who Canada will face in Group F at the World Cup). So there’s excitement. But again we have to balance that with the reality of their quality and then we have to put the work into the next three days.”
Canada’s last World Cup warm-up is on November 17 in Dubai against No. 24 Japan.
Canada controlled large stretches of the game on Friday and, with 61 percent possession, beat Qatar 13-8 (8-2 on shots).
Canada wasted little time as Larin scored in the fourth minute. The Club Brugge forward rose to head a cross from Sam Adekugbe for the 25th of his Canadian men’s record in 53 appearances.
David doubled the lead in the 13th minute after Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb boxed away a cross from Kamal Miller, but only against two waiting Canadians. Alphonso Davies went down, losing his footing and trying to get the ball, but David was there to blast it home for his 22nd goal in 33 Canadian colors games.
David, who is signed with Adidas, covered the Nike logo on the Canada shirt with his right hand as he celebrated the goal. Recently, there was talk on social media that Canada, unlike other teams, will not reveal a new kit for the World Cup.
Herdman, perhaps diplomatically, said after the game he didn’t notice the celebration.
Canada almost scored a third goal from a free-kick in the 88th minute, but Ike Ugbo’s header was parried by the Qatar keeper and Miller’s attempt to deflect the rebound hit the bar.
There was a moment of concern in the second half when Davies required treatment after tangling with Ismail Mohammad in the 57th minute. The Bayern Munich star was able to run away, albeit cautiously, as he made way for a substitute.
“I think he’s alright. He sat smiling on the bench. So I think he’s fine,” Herdman said.
David (Junior) Hoilett, capped for his 48th cap, captained Canada in the absence of the injured Atiba Hutchinson.
Friday’s game was the Canadian men’s first game against an Asian opponent since November 2016, when they lost 2-0 to South Korea.
The Canadians, who face No. 2 Belgium in the opening match of the World Cup on November 23, used the flanks to attack Qatar’s tightened defence.
Canada had 62 percent possession in the first half. Both sides made changes in the second half as Herdman sent on Richie Laryea, Charles-Andreas Bryn, Ismael Kone, Ugbo, Liam Millar and Mark-Anthony Kaye.
Qatar showed more determination in the second half but failed to break through the Canadian defense and offered little in attack.
For the Canadians, the European camp is the first meeting since an ill-fated meeting in Vancouver in June when players refused to play a friendly against Panama over a contract dispute. The team broke the deadlock to face Curacao and Honduras in CONCACAF Nations League games on June 9 and 13. However, the contract negotiations continue.
Herdman has other injury worries as Club Brugge winger Tajon Buchanan is only likely to come on the bench for the Uruguay game if he is healthy. Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry, who picked up a hamstring problem on the eve of camp, is with the team but is unlikely to play. TFC teammate Jonathan Osorio stayed home to deal with “neurological dysfunction” stemming from an elbow in the head in an MLS game in mid-July.
Despite the injuries, Herdman fielded a strong line-up with Miller, Steven Vitoria and Alistair Johnston in front of goalkeeper Milan Borjan with Adekugbe and Hoilett at full-backs and Samuel Piette and Stephen Eustaquio in midfield, while Davies, David and Larin led the attack.
Piette was influential in midfield, often joining Eustaquio in smothering Qatar attacks.
Canada’s starting XI went into the game with a total of 428 caps, led by Borjan (65) and Piette (62).
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022