Canada finished off the round-robin portion of the CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship with a dominant 4-0 victory over St Kitts and Nevis. Canada’s opponents entered the game with losses in both of their previous matches and a goal differential of -16, without having scored a goal.
The pitch in Tegucigalpa was in horrible condition once again. The field looked like it had experienced a week of CFL games in succession. This raises questions why a June tournament is given to a host in the midst of rainy season.
While rotation is required in a short tournament with only two days between games, it was somewhat surprising to see Lowell Wright and Justin Smith not starting in a must-win game. There were some fears that their absences were an indication that either player had an undisclosed injury from the previous game. The presence of both players was sorely missed in the first half.
After a first half where, despite 80% possession and hemming in a weak St Kitts & Nevis side, Canada looked like a side that were either disinterested or unmotivated to play. There were several enticing balls placed inside the St Kitts and Nevis area. However, there lacked anyone exhibiting a killer instinct. This has become a recurring pattern over these three round-robin games so far. It is a situation sure to raise questions about how the coaching staff is preparing the team pre-game.
The second half began with a substitution bringing in captain Justin Smith in place of Gabriel Pellegrino. For their part, the St Kitts and Nevis players continued to pack almost everyone behind the ball and effectively clogged the centre of the park. While Canada maintained its dominance in possession and territory, there were still a mounting concern about where the goals would come from.
Everything was about to change with a triple substitution in the 58th minute that brought in Tiago Coimbra for Hugo Mbongue, Lowell Wright for Kamron Habibullah, and Keesan Ferdinand for Kobe Franklin. These moves paid immediate dividends with Tiago ‘Canadá ‘ Coimbra heading home from close range in the 59th minute after a Kwasi Poku cross.
This opened the flood gates as Matt Catavalo doubled the Canadian lead with a well taken strike from just beyond the top of the box in the 65th minute. With the St Kitts and Nevis team’s energy waning and the young Canadians’ confidence restored, the pressure on the St Kitts and Nevis goal continued unabated.
Lowell Wright added to St Kitts and Nevis’ misery, and to the Canadian goal tally in the 78th minute when he drilled home a left-footed cannon from close range after a suspect clearance landed at his feet. Only two minutes later, Maël Henry back-heeled from a few feet out after receiving a low cross from Jean-Aniel Assi to complete the scoring. Ben Alexander picked up the clean sheet but was hardly bothered on the night, having only one save to make.
With the win, Canada finished the group stage in third place with four points, two behind Cuba and three behind Group E leaders the United States. The result will allow Canada to advance into the knockout round, where their next opponent is yet to be determined but will be either Panama or Guatemala, whichever team finishes second in Group G. Panama vs El Salvador are yet to play.
While either of Panama or Guatemala will pose a challenge to Canada, it is the their likely opponent in the quarterfinal, should they prevail, that will become their greatest challenge to reaching the semi-finals. Canada’s only chance remaining to avoid a quarterfinal showdown with Mexico will be if Haiti produces a shock upset when each team plays their round-robin finale in Group F.
Regardless of who Canada plays, the team must find a higher level of intensity from the first minute the match begins. This is especially the case when advancing the ball inside the final third, where the team needs to be more clinical in finishing. Slow starts in the knockout stages will likely spell an early exit from the tournament, and end any dreams of Canada playing in the 2023 U-20 World Cup or the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Possible Line-up in the Round of 16 match:
4-3-3 - B. Alexander – K. Ferdinand, M. Campagna, J. Knight-Lebel, N. Abatneh – R. Zouhir, J. Smith, M. Catavalo – J. Assi, L. Wright, T. Coimbra
Game Date – Sunday, June 26th , 2022
Time – 4:00 pm EST
Watch – OneSoccer YouTube Channel (Free)
Place - Estadio Nacional, Tegucigalpa, Honduras