Canada earned a crucial three points in World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Panama at BMO Field in Toronto Wednesday.
And while head coach John Herdman was quick to praise his entire squad, the night will be remembered for the impressive performance and brilliant individual goal from Canadian talisman Alphonso Davies.
“It was a real team performance tonight, but we have something special in Alphonso,” said Herdman following the game. “We know that. And I think every team does.”
Davies had played all 180 minutes of the two previous matches against Mexico and Jamaica. But Herdman was convinced his superstar could find the motivation to fight through any fatigue Wednesday.
“I had the conversation with him about finding that next level tonight,” he said. “I knew he had to push it. And he just pushed through. We were on the side line thinking he could have to come out. You could see he was gassing it. (But) he wants this bad. He really wants this dream of taking this country to World Cup.
Panama strikes first but Canada responds
Panama stunned the home crowd opening the scoring in the 4th minute when fullback Michael Murillo broke with speed down the right wing before setting up forward Rolando Blackburn for a simple finish from seven yards.
But Canada responded well, led by man-of-the-match Alphonso Davies.
First Davies created a chance for Jonathan David, who perhaps should have taken on a shot instead of laying off to David Wotherspoon who put his effort wide.
David again found himself with a great opportunity in the 15th minute, thanks to a fine dribble and through ball by Davies. But this time the Lille OSC striker forced Panamanian keeper Luis Meija into a diving save.
Four minutes later Canada was denied a possible penalty when Stephen Eustaquio looked to have been fouled in the penalty area. But the referee judged the challenge to be fair.
Canada continued pressurizing the Panama defence and found the deserved equalizer in the 28th minute. Panama’s Michael Murillo put the ball into his own net trying to defend a Alphonso Davies after a succession of set pieces deep in the visitors’ half.
Four minutes later Canada had another penalty shout when Davies was toppled over in the box. But again, the referee didn’t see enough to point to the spot.
“At no point did I feel Canada were going to lose that game,” said Herdman. “They caught us with that sucker punch. But the guys got straight back at it. Shot after shot. Corner after corner.”
Canada dominates and Davies’ big moment
As expected Canada came out strong in the first half. First Wothersppon curled a long range effort just past the far post in the 48th minute. And a minute later David had a half chance but failed to fully control a chipped pass by Tajon Buchanan.
Panama grew into the half and it looked like Canada was beginning to tire and it seemed as though the hosts were taking their foot off the gas. Herdman made a couple substitutions at the 64th minute mark and adjusted his formation, bringing on Mark-Anthony Kaye and Sam Adekugbe for David Wotherspoon and Jonathan Osorio
But it was 20-year-old superstar Alphonso Davies who grabbed the game by the scuff of the neck to find the go-ahead goal in the 65th minute with a fine solo effort – the Bayern Munich player racing down the right wing to keep the ball in play before taking on the last defender and finding the bottom corner with a left-footed strike.
“I was contemplating about running to the ball or not,” admitted Davies after the game. “And then I saw the defenders a bit confused so I started picking up pace. And after that I was committed to win. When I did that it was a two v one. I tried to look for my other player but I beat (the defender), and in my mind I was just like, ‘shoot the ball.’ So I shot the ball across the keeper. And I’m happy it went in the net.”
Six minutes later Tajon Buchanan secured the points heading in Canada’s third after a deep cross by Richie Laryea. And forward Jonathan David scored the fourth when the ball dropped nicely for him in the box in the 77th minute.
“That’s a dominant home performance,” said Herdman. “A couple nervy moments. But I’ve said to these guys, ‘we can tolerate some nervy moments. We’ve got to risk more to gain more.’”
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The result lifts Canada above Panama in the standings and was a recovery of sorts after Sunday’s 0-0 draw away to Jamaica, according to Davies.
“You know the game against Jamaica was pretty disappointing,” he said. “We felt like we could have won that game. Coming into this game we wanted to stay focussed and get the three points at home. Everyone was locked in and wanted to be on the pitch. The mindset that was on the pitch was really strong and we managed to get the win tonight.”
Up next in World Cup qualifying
Canada now sits in third place after six of 14 qualifying matches. The top three teams will qualify directly to World Cup 2022.
Canada hosts its next two World Cup qualifiers at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta next month. Costa Rica visits Friday, November 12 and Mexico arrive four days later to face the Canadians Tuesday, November 16.
CONCACAF World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying final round