Canada all but booked its spot in the fourth round of CONCACAF qualification for the 2016 FIFA World Cup following a 3-0 win over Belize on a gorgeous Friday night before 10,412 fans at BMO Field.
Tosaint Ricketts was the star of the show, bagging a pair of goals for Canada, who now holds the distinct advantage over Belize going into the second leg. Atiba Hutchinson also scored for Canada.
This is a two-game CONCACAF qualifier with the winner based on aggregate score moving on. Canada just needs a draw in the return match next Tuesday in the Belize capital of Belmopan to advance to the fourth round. A 2-0 loss is also good enough for Canada. Belize needs a four-goal win in the second leg.
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Canada was clearly the better side, and it was one-way traffic for most of the match. Still, it was a bit of a laboured performance for Canada, especially against a Belize team that only boasts three full-time professional players—the majority of their players have other jobs.
Canadian coach Benito Floro was pleased with the performance and felt his side comfortably controlled the match, and created a number of chances. But he also bemoaned his players’ lack of finishing, feeling Canada could have scored more goals.
“We can say the result was a little soft, but good,” Floro offered.
He later added: “Three goals is a good result but not enough to relax for the next game.”
Ricketts didn’t sound as concerned as his coach, pointing out that Canada did have scoring opportunities.
“As long as we’re getting chances I think things are okay. If you get enough chances the ball is going to go in. It’s better to get chances than not get any,” Ricketts offered.
Hutchinson concurred: “We controlled the game from start to finish. We played some good football. … It was a good attacking performance from us.”
Curiously, Floro used a holding midfielder to shield the back four, almost acting as a fifth defender. At times, Hutchinson was deployed in the role—an odd assignment for Canada’s best attacking midfielder, to say nothing of why Canada needed an extra defender against a side the calibre of Belize.
Midfielder Will Johnson started for Canada on Friday, making his first appearance for the national team in over two years. It was also his first game back at BMO Field since breaking his leg in an MLS match against Toronto FC last September.
Canada is ranked 102nd in the world while Belize is No. 128.
A tediously dull first half saw Canada dominate but struggle to create anything in the final third of the pitch. Belize couldn’t connect its passes, and was only able to venture over the halfway line a few times. Canada had six shots on target in the opening 45 minutes—Belize didn’t have any. As the game wore on, Belize put more men behind the ball, making it harder for Canada to break through.
“It is true that Belize was very compact in front of their box, but it was not their defensive qualities that caused problems for us. It was our fault for not scoring more goals,” Floro assessed.
Veteran Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman was subbed out in the 14th minute with a calf injury and was replaced by Samuel Piette.
The breakthrough came in the 25th minute. Belize goalkeeper Woodrow West made a fantastic save from in close, but he couldn’t control the rebound and his defenders couldn’t clear it. Ricketts managed to poke it past West in a mad goalmouth scramble.
The Canadians came out with more fire to start the second half. Ricketts made a number of swift moves to cut into the box from the wing, but his pass to Issey Nakajima-Farran had too much weight on it for the veteran to control, and he hit a weak shot right at the Belize goalkeeper.
Canada padded its lead in the 65th minute. Nik Ledgerwood whipped a fantastic ball from the flank deep into the box that Ricketts side-footed home for his 12th goal in 43 appearances for his country.
Hutchinson added a third goal for Canada late in regulation on a scrappy play just moments after West made a brilliant save to deny Johnson, tipping the midfielder’s blast from just inside the box just over the crossbar.
NOTES: The winner of this series advances to the semifinal round of the CONCACAF qualifiers, and will compete in a round-robin group with Mexico (No. 26 in the world), Honduras (No. 81), and either El Salvador (No. 107) or Curacao (No. 148). The top two teams from that group move on to “The Hex,” the final round of CONCACAF qualifying… Former national team star Dwayne De Rosario was honoured in a special ceremony conducted on the field before kickoff. De Rosario, who retired earlier this season, is Canada’s all-time scorer with 22 goals. He also ranks third in appearances with 81…