Octavio Zambrano has only been head coach of the Canadian men’s national team for two games, but has already won silverware. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Earlier today, Canada were crowned victors of the three-team Aspire U-23 Tournament in Doha, Qatar. But there didn’t appear to be a trophy handed out after the win.
After beating Uzbekistan 1-0 on Saturday, Canada U-23 defeated the host Qatar 2-0 today to claim the top spot in the tournament. National team debutant Caniggia Elva scored the lone goal against Uzbekistan. Toronto FC’s Jordan Hamilton scored the winner against Qatar while a beautiful chip from Michael Petrasso assured the win.
The two results made for an impressive camp for the Canadian team, one where Zambrano got a good taste of players who are close to senior national team duty. It also meant a positive start to his coaching tenure with Canada, having only been announced as national team coach a couple of weeks ago.
To be fair to Qatar and especially Uzbekistan, the scoreline did not tell the whole story. Canada had lady luck on their side during both games as their opposition hit posts, missed clear cut chances and had a couple of tough calls go against them. But how they won didn’t seem to bother Canada in the least during the pair of gritty games.
Canada maintained composure well during the tournament, as both opponents made some dirty tackles when it was clear they would lose. The Canadians didn’t lose their tempers, however, crucial to seeing out both games.
When Canada got chances they made them count, best embodied by the play of Elva. The Vfb Stuttgart II attacking midfielder, making his Canadian national team debut, wasn’t always noticeable in the two games. But when he was, he made big things happen. Elva’s composed finish saw Canada past Uzbekistan, and a great pass to Hamilton turned into the winner against Qatar.
While Elva had the best solo performance of any player at the camp for Canada, it was the backline that did the most as a group. In the middle Amer Didic and Kosovar Sadiki formed a strong centreback pairing through the two games, staying organized and limited chances. Sadiki, in particular, is a promising prospect. At just 18, he was dominant against older players and was the vocal leader of the backline.
At fullback, debutant Juan Cordova looked confident and comfortable on the ball going forward, and looks like a player well served to play Central American opposition. New York City FC pick Kwame Awuah, the Canadian picked the highest in this years SuperDraft, was a revelation at leftback. He played a big part in both Canadian goals, including a clever restart that found Petrasso.
It is unclear when the U-23 team will meet again next, as they are unlikely to play an official match until 2020 when they try to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. However, this camp certainly gave Zambrano some players to keep in mind when he calls players up for the national team in the near future.