Canada vs México – Road to Russia 2018

Canada vs México – Road to Russia 2018

Manuel Veth –

While most of Europe is still preparing for the European Championships in France next summer, the rest of the world is already gearing up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Among the nations that want to qualify are Canada and México—both play in the North American football federation CONCACAF—which met on March 25 in Vancouver in the forth round of the CONCACAF qualifiers.

The fourth round is divided into three groups with four teams in each group, of which two teams will advance to the final qualification stage also known as the Hex. The fifth round is a round-robin group stage tournament in which the top three teams will qualify for Russia—the fourth placed team has to play a home and away playoff match against the fifth placed team from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Mexico a Firm Favourites to Qualify for the Hex

México are firm favourites to qualify for the fifth round of the qualifiers, and indeed very likely to qualify for Russia 2018. In its history El Tri (as the Mexican national team is called by its fans) have qualified for 15 out of 20 World Cups.

Canada vs México - Canada fans put on dazzling display

Canada vs México – Canada fans put on dazzling display

Canada on the other hand has only managed one World Cup appearance—the 1986 World Cup in México—and given Canada’s recent football history, even reaching the fifth round of the CONCACAF qualifiers would be considered a success, a stage of the qualifiers that Canada hasn’t reached since 1997.

Going into the Canada vs México match Canada was ranked 87th in the FIFA World Ranking whereas México was ranked 22nd. México was therefore a huge favourite to win the match.

The atmosphere before the match, however, was electric as Vancouver geared up for the biggest football event since hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in 2015. Futbolgrad spoke to a journalist from, who estimated that 20,000 Mexican fans had made the trip up from México—although Futbolgrad observed that most of the Mexican fans were made up of the Mexican diaspora living in Canada who watched the match at the 54,000 capacity BC Place.

Several hundred Mexicans greeted the national team in front of the team hotel in downtown Vancouver, and before the match the Mexican tricolour dominated the concourse around BC Place. Yet Canada’s Red and White Army was also out in full force, and before the match started the Voyageurs (as Canada’s fans are known) were out in full force to bath the stadium in red and white.

Canada Soccer honoured De Guzman before the match

Canada Soccer honoured De Guzman before the match

Before the match the Canadian Soccer Association honoured captain Julian de Guzman for becoming the most capped player in Canada’s national team history with 86 starts.

México Dominated the Match

After the national anthems the match began, and surprisingly it was Canada that had the first major chance in the 21st minute when the Queen’s Park Ranger left winger David “Junior” Hoilett received a wonderful cross by Beşiktaş’ midfield maestro Atiba Hutchinson. Hoilett only had to slot the ball into the net, but put the ball went over the cross bar. Hoilett and his teammates might have later wondered what would have happened if he had managed to score.

As it was the score remained 0-0, and México began to dominate the match. Then in the 31 minute Bayer Leverkusen’s Javier Hernández (better known as Chicharito) made it 1-0 for México after a cross from FC Porto’s left-back Miguel Layún. Just eight minutes later CF Pachuca’s Hirving Lozano broke away from his man marker in midfield and stormed towards Canada’s penalty box, glanced up briefly, and after noticing that he had no support drove the ball hard towards the net. Canadian keeper Milan Borjan had no chance as the shot beat him on his short side making it 2-0 for México.

Canada made one change in the second half as striker Toasaint Ricketts was taken off for Burnly’s Scott Arfield. This was Arfield’s debute for the Canadian national team. Arfield, born and raised in Livingston, Scotland, qualified for Canada as his father was born in Toronto. Yet Arfield is a bit of a steal for the Canadian team, as his numbers were certainly good enough to warrant a call-up to the Scottish national team—for which he played 17 U-21 matches—but the call from Scotland never came.

Arfield chose Canada over Scotland

Arfield chose Canada over Scotland

Arfield’s Burnley teammate David Edgar alerted the Canadian national team staff of the fact that Arfield was available to play for Canada. Canada’s national team coach Benito Floro jumped on the opportunity to add further European experience to his squad, and Arfield was called up to face México.

Yet it was the Mexicans that kept the pressure on, and in the 58th minute Chicharito had a goal disallowed for being offside. Yet his curled shot on goal should have counted for beauty alone.

Overall the Mexicans began to take the foot off the pedal a bit, figuring that the match was already won. Canada meanwhile tried to get back into play, but while the Canadians seemed to run on adrenaline for the first 30 minutes they were no longer able to compensate lack of skill and experience with effort after México made it 2-0.

In fact the Canadians seemed to deflate, and after Chicharito’s disallowed goal it was only a matter of time until México would score again. Then, in the 71st minute, Canada’s defence was unable to clear the ball and Tigres UANL right-winger Javier Aquino brought the ball back into the box where Porto’s Jesús Manuel Corona was left unmarked. Corona made two steps into the centre of the box, and hammered the ball on the box. Canada’s keeper Borjan got both hands on the ball but the shot was simply too hard to stop.

Shortly after the goal a BC Place record attendance of 54,798 was announced, which is a testament to the growth of football in Canada. Meanwhile the match seemed to fizzle out—although Eintracht Frankfurt’s Marco Fabian hit the cross bar in the 85th minute—México simply proved too big of a challenge for Canada’s boys.

Canada vs México – The Long Road to Russia 2018

The Canadians will next travel to México to face El Tri at the historical Estadio Azteca. Canada’s national team coach Floro will, however, be aware that a second place finish will be enough to advance to the Hex, and will therefore focus to gain the necessary points to qualify for the next stage when Canada plays Honduras (September 2 in Honduras), and El Salvador (September 6 in Canada). The performance against México should be encouraging, however, as Canada has the skills to gain the four necessary points against Honduras and El Salvador.

Canada vs México was not an even competition

Canada vs México was not an even competition

Mexico, meanwhile can plan for the next qualification stages as they now have nine points with three matches remaining, which should be enough to secure one of the two top positions in the group. During the match the news came in that the United States had lost their group stage match against Guatemala, severely threatening their qualification chances. With the United States under German coach Jürgen Klinsmann struggling México will surely be one of the favourites to win the fifth group stage and qualify for its 16th World Cup.

This challenging qualification process in North America highlights the long road for many teams to the World Cup in Russia.

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available to readers later this year. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.