Canada hosts El Salvador in the third match of the final round of World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying in Toronto Wednesday.
Canada currently sits third in eight-team table on two points. And while there’s still a long road ahead with 12 more games to play, Wednesday’s tilt with El Salvador is now considered a key fixture for Canada’s hopes of World Cup qualification.
A virtual must-win game for Canada
Canada’s start to the final round of World Cup qualifying has been adequate so far. And a home victory against El Salvador is probably necessary for Canada there are real aspirations of reaching it’s first World Cup since 1986.
Head coach John Herdman will have likely targeted at least six or seven points from this first three-game qualifying window. The Canada will fall short of that goal this time around. But Concacaf qualifying is a marathon with plenty ups and downs to navigate.
The Canadians only managed a 1-1 draw against Honduras on Thursday, after a mostly disjointed display in Toronto.
But Herdman’s squad recovered somewhat to earn a 1-1 draw away to the United States – though Herdman thought Canada could have, and perhaps should have, taken all three points in Nashville.
A Wednesday win will earn Canada five points from this first window, which may still be considered a decent return, given other results this week. But anything other than a win Wednesday will be a failure according to Canadian centre back Doneil Henry
“Every game is pressure, because we know the importance of performing and getting points, especially at home,” said Henry, speaking to the media Tuesday. “We’d be satisfied with nothing less than a win tomorrow (against El Salvador).
“No added pressure, but we know what we need to do.”
Alphonso Davies out injured
Canada will be without influential winger Alphonso Davies for Wednesday’s match versus El Salvador after picking up an injury against the United States.
Herdman admitted Davies didn’t train the with squad during Tuesday media conference, but initially stopped short of declaring him unfit to play Wednesday.
“Alphonso didn’t train today,” admitted Canada coach John Herdman, speaking to the media Tuesday. “And I’ll be providing an update either later today or probably tomorrow morning as we continue the assessment.”
Canada Soccer later announced Davies was heading back to his club Bayern Munich to begin treatment.
Canada’s two goals so far this round have come through Davies. The Bayern Munich winger delivered the cross that eventually led to the penalty against Honduras. And he broke into the penalty area to provide Cyle Larin the tap-in equalizer versus the United States.
Canada employing squad rotation thanks to depth
As expected, Herdman has opted to use some squad rotation during these first three qualifying games. And thanks largely to the current squad’s unprecedented depth, Canada’s coach is confident he can move players in and out of the starting line-up without losing quality.
Jonathan David, for example, was left off the starting line-up against the United States Sunday, eventually making a substitute appearance. The Lille OSC’s striker is a regular starter for the national side. But Herdman appears to have given him a rest in preparation for Wednesday’s must-win.
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“I think it’s critical to have a roster that’s completely focused and committed so that when they’re called on they’re ready to go,” said Herdman Tuesday. “I think you’ve seen that with young Buchanan coming off the bench, Atiba Hutchinson coming off the bench, Sam Adekugbe starting the game (against USA), Doneil Henry starting the game (against USA).”
“These boys are dialled in. The squad is focussed. And every man’s ready to play their part. That’s a great place to be as a coach.”
El Salvador tough on home turf, but untested away
Many are expecting El Salvador to finish near the bottom of the table when qualifying wraps up next year. They’re currently the second lowest ranked side of the eight teams in this final stage of qualifying.
But bolstered by the intimidating caldron of San Salvador’s Estadio Cuscatlán, the Central American side has earned two respectable 0-0 draws to open qualifying, versus the United States and Honduras.
Wednesday’s match will be ‘La Selecta’s’ first away match this campaign and John Herdman will be hoping, and perhaps expecting, El Salvador’s defence will be less stubborn in Toronto without the 50,000+ partisan fans driving them on.
“They’re a good team,” said Herdman of El Salvador Tuesday. “I think every game is a battle. They really do operate in a cohesive way. They can run all day. And they’re a real threat on the transition.”