ST. JOHN’S, Canada— Olympic aspirations for Canada ended in heartbreak on Sunday night as the host Mexican side showed their superiority in a 2-0 victory.
Mauro Biello made some changes, both forced and tactical, to his starting XI and the Canadian system in this one.
With captain Derek Cornelius missing out due to an injury suffered late in the match against Honduras, Callum Montgomery came back into the team after sitting out the past two with a knock of his own and joined David Norman Jr. and Marcus Godinho to form a trio in the center of Canada’s backline.
Youngster Lucas Dias also earned a spot in the XI after impressing in his three substitute appearances in the group stage. His ability to dribble and play with directness was something Canada would desperately need to help support Tajon Buchanan and Co. in the attack.
Earlygoings of the match went as many supporters on both sides would have anticipated with Mexico seeing the majority of possession and Canadian opportunities limited to rare counter-attacking scenarios.
While ‘El Tri’ was able to get balls over the top of the Canadian backline with some regularity, keeper James Pantemis showed controlled aggression on several occasions to come off his line early, confidently collecting several through balls.
The absence of Cornelius looked manageable in the opening half as Canada’s organization kept Mexico from too many clean looks on goal despite the hosts sharing 65% of the possession after 45 minutes.
Where the visitors mostly lacked in the first half was in playing out the back — a department where they did clearly miss Cornelius — and perhaps more importantly in their execution in limited counter-attacking chances.
Too many times a Canadian forward played a stray pass in the final third that led to any near-scoring opportunities burning out before they could truly develop. As a result, both sides went into the break goalless and feeling the frustration.
Following the restart, Mexico quickly started to find some cohesion going forward and looked as though they might find the opener before Norman Jr. carved down a Mexican forward as the last man back for Canada.
Perhaps a bit of regional gamesmanship was on display from the Cavalry FC man as he was very fortunate to avoid a sending-off for the challenge.
See, that's the sort of thing Canada has to do more of in these big games. CONCACAF refs hate giving out reds, so good on Norman Jr for taking a cynical yellow. It's greasy, but it's CONCACAF, and Canada doesn't recognize that enough in these games#CanM23 #CMOQ— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 29, 2021
That good fortune for Norman Jr. and the rest of Canada would run out just minutes later as an error playing out the back — unfortunately far from a rarity in this one — led to Uriel Antuna pouncing on the gaff for the opening goal.
GOAL— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) March 29, 2021
Uriel Antuna gives Mexico a 1-0 lead and one foot in the door for Tokyo 2020 as #CanM23 GK James Pantemis gifts an easy go-ahead to the opposition
Can Canada turn this around? They've got 30 minutes ⏰
Things went from bad to worse in the 64th minute when Mexico punished Canada for a second time in quick succession, this time with a bit of fortune from the woodwork.
Down two goals and facing a tough test in the closing 25 minutes, Biello turned to his bench for reinforcements.
In fairness to Ballou Tabla, the CF Montreal forward did provide a spark but ultimately Canada failed to truly mount any form of a comeback, as their lone shot on target came from a tame Buchanan effort as the first half closed out.
The full-time score would stay at 2-0 as Mexico comfortably kept Canada at bay.
Compete level and a want to win are the last things this side could be questioned about, but ultimately their shortcomings came in the form of costly mistakes and a lack of execution.
Although both Mexico and Honduras have already secured their place in Tokyo, the Final goes between the two semifinal winners on Tuesday night at 9 PM ET on OneSoccer.