This is going nowhere, we're never going to score, we'll only have 5 points, even if we beat Cuba, that's only 8 we're going to need a result in Panama or Honduras. Ooh, a free kick. A set piece is probably our only hope, send McKenna forward to get his head on a cross, their keeper's dodgy, maybe Occean, I just hope they don't try another....hang on someone's just kicked it in the net, how did that happen, that can't be a goal, that's way too quick. Everyone's running off to the corner though, where's the ref pointing to? He's going to allow that isn't he? Holy crap I think he has! We've scored!
That's how the goal happened in my head, a very belated and kind of anti climactic celebration for a big big goal. Watching it again on the big screen at BMO and later at home, it's a brilliant bit of thinking from Atiba Hutchinson, a quick check with the ref, then a chip into the box for an alert and completely unmarked Dwayne de Rosario to simply sidefoot it home past the totally out of position goalie. Fantastic stuff, though if I were Panamanian, I'd be very annoyed and curious as to why the ref let Canada take such a quick free kick that no-one was ready for.
That was all Canada needed, though there was time for Panama to come very close to an equaliser, a shot across the goal from Roman Torres going just wide, as well as for a fun little skirmish by the Canadian bench after Kenny Stamatopoulos grabbed the ball and tucked it behind the bench to stop a quick throw in being taken.
I'd say overall it was a deserved result, mainly for the first half when Canada were the most dangerous team, coming closest to scoring from a Kevin McKenna header that hit the post. The second half saw Panama come at Canada a lot more, though really, neither side looked like scoring. It was a very similar game to the other games we've seen at BMO this year, Canada looked strong in defence, combative in midfield stopping the opposition from really getting going, but again looked disjointed and unthreatening in front of goal. Stephen Hart's built a team that's really difficult to beat, yet another clean sheet to add to the burgeoning recent collection, hopefully there's a way to maintain that and develop a sharper cutting edge up front.
At the heart of that defence, unchanged despite the availability of Marcel de Jong, was Kevin McKenna who had a magnificent game, winning everything in the air and organising/yelling at his fellow defenders and Lars Hirschfeld with an intensity that carried over to his celebrations at the south end after the game, all badge kissy, chest thumpy and fiery eyed. No way in hell McKenna was going to lose last night, he just wasn't going to let that happen.
In midfield, Julian de Guzman and Will Johnson again put in great work to stop Panama from ever really getting going in midfield, but it was Atiba Hutchinson that stood out there, a really good game with two obvious highlights. In the 1st half, he made a long run across the pitch to put in a crucial sliding tackle to stop a potential Panama breakaway, then of course there was his quick thinking to set up the goal.
That goal was of course scored by Dwayne de Rosario. He hadn't had a great game out on the left wing by any means, none of Canada's forwards did, he, Simeon Jackson and Olivier Occean having occasional moments without ever really putting it together to look like a dangerous front line. The goal itself though was a good demonstration of his goalscoring instincts, showing the awareness to notice just what Hutchinson was doing and then calmly slot it home. It's something we haven't really seen in a long time from De Ro in a Canada jersey, this was his first in open play since scoring in world cup qualifying against St Vincent and Grenadine over 4 years ago.
Despite that puzzling record, this was of course his 20th goal for Canada, finally overtaking Dale Mitchell for the all time record, so a sincere congratulations to him for that. Hopefully he can push that record a lot further over the next 3 games as Honduras got a 3-0 win in Cuba earlier in the day, so this looks like shaping up to be a tight 3 way race. Simply beating Cuba in October to get to 10 points may well not be enough, so the defence is going to need all the support it can get in the form of goals.
Of course it wouldn't be a Canada game in Toronto without talk of the crowd, and in that respect things are definitely still improving, the crowd announced at over 17,000, forcing the opening of the top deck of the West stand for the first time in these qualifiers. The atmosphere in the South stand was fantastic, the East stand looked to be packed with Canada supporters (though there were plenty of red Panama jerseys milling around the stadium so that may be a bit deceiving) and the lineup to meet and get autographs from the women's team was ridiculously long. Momentum keeps steadily building, getting the win here will only keep that going.
7 points and top of the table at the halfway stage. Not bad, not bad at all.