Canada still has plenty to play for in final men’s qualifying match against Panama
If you were wondering what there is left to play for in Canada’s final World Cup qualification match against Panama on Wednesday, after the team secured its spot in Qatar over the weekend, you only needed to visit Canada Soccer’s Twitter page to find out.
“Secured the bag, now we’re coming for the crown,” read the account’s first post on the social media site on Tuesday, accompanied by pictures of Stephen Eustáquio, Richie Laryea and Liam Fraser heading out to their final training session of this final qualification round.
It was just two days earlier that Canada was celebrating in front of thousands of fans after qualifying for soccer’s biggest competition for the first time in more than 36 years. It would be easy for John Herdman’s team to take a lackadaisical approach to what could be viewed as a throwaway match for the team, especially after a gruelling year of qualification.
Herdman gave the players the day off Monday to relish in the accomplishment, but his staff gathered at 6:30 a.m. to prepare, scouting Canada’s next opponent and putting together substitution plans. The players arrived back in the team environment Tuesday with the bit between their teeth, the euphoria of clinching still evident but chasing another high from another victory.
“Qualifying was only one of the goals that we’d set … to really define new Canada was finishing top of CONCACAF,” Herdman said. “You’ve got to be number one and that’s what we’re pushing for.
Canada has 28 points going into the final match, with a goal difference of plus-17. Win or tie and the team is guaranteed to finish first in the region ahead of the United States and Mexico, which will add some swagger to its arrival in Qatar.
Lose and the Americans and Mexicans could, technically, catch up. A loss by Canada coupled with wins for its two rivals would mean all three teams finish with 28 points. In that case, the United States, with a goal difference of 13, would need to make up five goals on Canada to win in a tiebreaker. Mexico’s chances are more far fetched, needing to make up 11 goals.
The Americans visit Costa Rica, the Mexicans host El Salvador and Herdman is not taking any chances. The United States just scored five goals against Panama on Sunday, after all.
Winning again Panama could also move Canada from the fourth pot to the third pot in Friday’s World Cup draw, which could land the country in an easier group in Qatar. FIFA will use new rankings, to be released Thursday, to determine the four pots teams will be drawn out of. Canada currently sits at No. 33 on FIFA’s list, but could jump into the top 30 with a victory over Panama.
“We’ll keep setting the bar,” Herdman said Sunday. “We’ve broken records since 2018, and we’re not going to stop here.”
There is no love lost between Canada and Panama, either, which would make winning all the more fun for the Canadians. The last time these two teams met was at BMO Field last October, a 4-1 victory for the home side best remembered by Alphonso Davies’ wonder goal that night. That headlining play by the young superstar, who will once again be unavailable for Canada as he recovers from a mild heart inflammation, meant some fiery interactions between the two squads flew under the radar.
“We still want to go and beat Panama up,” Herdman said. “We’ve got some unfinished business with that team.”