The Canadian men’s national team had never played Qatar before today. Interestingly enough, in 2015 an U-15 match was played, Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David scoring for Canada in a 2-0 win. Today was almost a carbon copy repeat of that youth game with the same result and David scoring Canada’s second goal.
Today’s game was Canada’s first test against non-CONCACAF competition since January 2020. Les Rouges faced the upcoming World Cup hosts, where all of Qatar’s players line up in the domestic Qatar Stars League, and with about 80% of the squad belonging to just two clubs; Al-Duhail Doha, and Al Sadd SC. While none play at a high level, the Qatari players make up for this with familiarity from playing both with one another (nationally) and against one another (domestically).
Qatar’s preparation began in earnest in early June with the decision of the Qatar Football Association (QFA) to exempt the national team players from participating in the Qatar Stars League for the remainder of the summer.
As a consequence, The Maroon, as Qatar is known, has played a prodigious amount of football this summer. Since July 9th, they have played 11 friendlies, albeit eight against club teams and an U-23 squad from Croatia. The remaining games were against national teams that could be generously described as a B team. All these games were played in Austria as well. The CanMNT has been idle since the June window.
Canada lined up in the Generali Stadium in Vienna, Austria in a familiar 3-4-3 formation against a Qatari side that came out in their usual 5-3-2. Junior Hoilett wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Atiba Hutchinson, and somewhat surprisingly over oftentimes alternate captain Milan Borjan. Samuel Piette got the start in midfield, forming a double pivot with the reliable Stephen Eustáquio.
Despite the layoff, Canada came out strong to start the match. Inside the fourth minute, Cyle Larin got his head on a Samuel Adekugbe cross to deposit the first goal of the match, his 25th for country. This was a perfect finish after a sequence of 12 passes throughout the attacking half by Canada.
Continuing their dominant play, Canada put Qatar under pressure again in the seventh minute. Larin was sent in by an Alistair Johnston through ball on a tough angle, only for Larin’s under-hit chip attempt to meet the outstretched hands of Qatari keeper Saad El-Sheeb.
In the 10th minute, Qatar made one of their few forays deep in Canadian territory after some sloppy play by Canada’s midfield and defence. However, Borjan was more than a match for the shot that stung off his palms and away from danger.
Canada were back on the front foot immediately after and again hemmed Qatar into their side of the pitch. Concluding another sweet passing sequence, Jonathan David buried a ball that came near the penalty spot for Canada’s second of the game. The initial cross was parried into the feet of Alphonso Davies, who was fouled on the play, but fortunately, the ball spilled to the clinical David. The goal was the 22-year-old’s 22nd in 33 caps for his country. However, it was his celebration that had more people talking as David appeared to deliberately place his hand over the Nike swoosh in a perceived protest over Canada being the only World Cup-bound team to not get a new kit for the tournament.
It was a dream start for Canada that looked equal parts dominant and comfortable in the first half. The half featured a few Herdman experiments, such as Hoilett lining up as a wing-back, Davies oftentimes tucking inside to play as an erstwhile #10 behind David and Larin, as well as Piette’s audition as Eustáquio’s midfield partner. On the basis of this half, all three experiments were successful.
The second half began with just a single substitution for Canada, with Richie Laryea coming on for Larin, and pushing Hoilett further up the field for a spell. Action was largely muted for the start of the half until the 58th minute when Davies went down after a challenge. While he eventually got up and walked off under his own power (to the sound of a collective sigh of relief from Canadian supporters), the break in the play spelled the end of the night for Davies, as well as David and Piette, who were replaced by Charles-Andreas Brym, Iké Ugbo and Ismaël Koné, respectively.
Shortly after arriving on the pitch, Adekugbe sent a sumptuous pass in close, but both Laryea and Ugbo were denied on the play that ought to have produced a third Canada goal. This was closely followed in the 66th minute by another 1-2 sequence between Brym and Koné that lacked the required final finish.
Canada then made their final two substitutions with Liam Millar coming on for Adekugbe, and then shortly after, Mark-Anthony Kaye replacing Eustáquio. As is common in friendlies with multiple substitutions in the second half, the quality of play fell off with neither team finding a sustained rhythm that threatened.
That is until late in the half. In the 88th minute, Kamal Miller struck the cross bar from within the Qatari goalkeeper’s area after latching on to a rebound parried his way after Ugbo’s redirected header off a set piece was saved.
Then in injury time, Hoilett smashed a powerful shot just wide of El-Sheeb’s net, soon followed by a final opportunity by Millar, whose shot found the arms of the Qatari keeper to end the match.
Canada’s defence held Qatar’s danger man Akram Afif under wraps throughout the evening’s affair. At the final whistle, Canada led Qatar in possession 61 to 39 per cent, and Canada held the advantage in shots and shots on target 13 (8) to Qatar’s 8 (2), with most of Qatar’s shots taken from distance.
In all this was a good team performance for Canada given this was their first match in 15 weeks. The quick start and lead by Les Rouges largely took Qatar out of the game. With a bit of luck or just more clinical finishing, the score could have gotten out of hand.
Next up for Qatar is a match with Chile in Vienna, Austria on September 27th, 2022.
As for Canada, their next clash is with Uruguay in Bratislava, Slovakia also on September 27th.