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Preview: Canada faces Mexico for a place in the Gold Cup final

Les Rouges are 90 minutes away from a first major final in over 20 years.

Costa Rica v Canada: Quarterfinals -2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The progress of the Canadian men’s national team over the last few years has been nothing but immense. Following Gold Cup group stage exits in 2011 and 2013, as well as disappointing quarter-final defeats in 2017 and 2019, John Herdman has propelled this Canada side to the 2021 Gold Cup semifinals while playing some of the most attractive football the program has seen in years.

Canada’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica in the quarter-finals on Sunday has been touted as one of the best performances in the history of the men’s national team. A dominant display in Arlington, Texas has now set up a mouth-watering clash with Mexico in the last four.

Kickoff is set for 10:00 pm EST at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, with the game available to stream on OneSoccer.

Midfield maestro Stephen Eustáquio once again stole the show against Costa Rica with a goal and an assist. He has now bagged three in three games and as a result, became the fourth Canadian in history to score in three separate matches at a Gold Cup.

The 24-year-old is the joint-second top scorer (shared with six players at the moment) in the tournament, just one goal behind Qatar’s Almoez Ali. Along with Eustáquio, Mexico’s Rogelio Funes Mori is also one of the six players currently on three Gold Cup goals.

Junior Hoilett also put in an inspiring performance against Costa Rica as he became the first Canadian to find the net in two Gold Cup quarter-final fixtures (2017 and 2021). After an impressive tournament for Les Rouges, Canadian soccer fans will no doubt be curious where free agent Hoilett will end up next season after his time with Cardiff City FC ended in May.

The quarter-final win was also Canada’s first clean sheet of the competition, with Maxime Crépeau and his backline ensuring that Costa Rica were unable to register a shot on target over 90 minutes.

Morale is evidently high within the Canadian camp, and with a tough task ahead of them in the semi-finals, Herdman’s men will look to build on their admirable showings when they take on a Mexico side who has yet to concede a single goal in this year’s Gold Cup.

“El Tri” began their campaign with a 0-0 draw to Trinidad and Tobago, but then bounced back with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Guatemala and a 1-0 victory against El Salvador to clinch top spot in Group A.

In the last eight, Mexico comfortably dispatched Honduras 3-0 to reach the Gold Cup semi-finals for the eighth consecutive tournament.

For the semifinal, Canada will be without two more pieces. Lucas Cavallini and Steven Vitória each picked up a yellow card against Costa Rica, which means they will serve a one-game suspension on Thursday.

The Mexico clash will be Canada’s fourth in Gold Cup history, with Les Rouges’ last outing in the semifinals coming back in 2007 where the United States recorded a narrow 2-1 victory. Their first and only Gold Cup semifinal triumph came during the tournament in 2000 where Canada ultimately went on to win it all. Mark Watson scored the only goal of the game against Trinidad and Tobago to book a place in the final against Colombia.

Since 1991, Mexico has played in 12 Gold Cup semifinals, winning nine and losing three. 2017 was the last time “El Tri” suffered defeat in the last four as they fell 1-0 to Jamaica.

If Mexico’s Gold Cup semifinal record wasn’t daunting enough, their record against Canada is one Herdman’s men will need to put to the side for the time being.

Out of 36 total meetings between the two nations, Canada has only won three of them. The trio of wins came during the 1976 CONCACAF Nations Cup (1-0), the 1990 North American Nations Cup (2-1) and the 2000 Gold Cup (2-1).

Since 2010, Mexico has won four out of their four encounters with Canada. The lastest matchup between the two nations was during the 2019 Gold Cup group stage, where Mexico ran out 3-1 winners.

Herdman’s men will have their sights set on rewriting the narrative that has almost always gone Mexico’s way. Having already given Canadian soccer fans much to cheer about this tournament, Canada’s thrilling squad are on a quest to reach new heights, as well as showcase that they can indeed compete with one of the world’s most renowned national soccer teams.