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Preview: Canada hoping to exorcise demons in Mexico in FIFA World Cup Qualifier

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Canada have never won in Mexico, but if they manage to come away with a result at Estadio Azteca on Thursday, it’ll likely be their biggest ever.

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Mexico v Canada: Semifinals - 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

TORONTO, Canada—This would be their biggest win to date if they manage to come away with a result as the Canadian men’s national team continues their World Cup Qualifying run in Mexico on Thursday evening – at Estadio Azteca – a place they have never tasted the feat of victory.

In fact, Canada has never won a match on Mexican soil, and has only beaten Mexico just three times in 36 games, with Les Rouges’ last win in all competitions coming all the way back in 2000, during their historic Gold Cup winning run.

But this Canadian men’s national team isn’t the same men’s national team of old. Long gone are the days of ‘Unattached FC’, replaced by a roster filled with global up-and-coming stars like Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich, Jonathan David of Lille OSC, Cyle Larin of Beşiktaş, or Stephen Eustaquio of F.C. Paços de Ferreira.

Canada now oozes with depth as well, and Mexico got a taste of that just a few months ago in the 2021 Gold Cup semifinals in Houston, a stadium filled with upwards of 70,000 Mexican supporters. On that day, with stars like Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, and Alphonso Davies all absent from Canada’s XI, Mexico escaped with a narrow 2-1 victory on the heels of an injury-time winner.

But John Herdman and co. are hoping this time will be different, with Davies and David likely to play a significant role. Though it certainly won’t be easy.

Altitude at Estadio Azteca will likely play a factor as will the intimidating environment. Playing in front of Mexican supporters in the States is one thing, but playing in front of 85,000 fans at the Azteca – a place Mexico hasn’t lost since 2013 – is a whole different ball game.

As friend of the site John Molinaro described it in his piece for Sportsnet:

“The stadium can be an intimidating place for visiting teams under the best of circumstances. In the worst of times, it is a hostile pit: fans in the terraces have been known to throw plastic bags of urine and loaded diapers at opposing players whenever they get near the touchline.”

All of this without even mentioning the quality that Mexico possess, a team that is widely regarded as the best in the CONCACAF region.

Players like Hirving Lozano of Napoli, Raul Jimenez of Wolverhampton, Rogelio Funes Mori of Monterrey all pose serious goal-scoring threats, and will likely be just a few of many names Canada zero in on heading into this juggernaut of a matchup.

As it stands, Canada enter this three-game window in second place behind only Mexico, making this fixture even more important – a game, when all is said and done, that could go a very long way in determining whether or not they get a spot in Qatar in 2022. The top three teams amongst the eight competing nations at the end of the 14-match group stage, which runs until next March, automatically earn a spot at the World Cup.

On the injury front, Cyle Larin, Atiba Hutchinson, Milan Borjan, and Lucas Cavallini are all expected to be unavailable for Herdman for selection, while travel restrictions have ruled out Junior Hoilett and David Wotherspoon.

Realistically, the odds are incredibly stacked against Canada, but if there’s one thing that this current crop of national team players have shown, it’s that they will not be intimidated.

HOW TO WATCH

When: Thursday, October 7 | 9:40 pm ET
Where: Estadio Azteca | Mexico City, Mexico
How: OneSoccer | Sportsnet360 | FuboTV