March 26, 2022 – 5:09 PM
TORONTO – After missing out on World Cup qualification in a loss Thursday in Costa Rica, Canada looks to seal the deal Sunday on home soil when it hosts Jamaica at BMO Field.
For midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, Canada is fielding one heck of a team.
“The whole country is playing (Sunday). Not only us,” he said after a chilly early-evening training session Saturday.
Asked what his message is to the fans, Eustaquio’s answer was short and sweet. “Get ready to be in Qatar,” he said.
The hope is come 6 p.m. ET Sunday, the lakefront stadium will be the epicentre of a national celebration, just as King George V Park in St. John’s, N.L., was on Sept. 14, 1985, when the Canadian men defeated Honduras 2-1 to secure a berth in their first — and only — World Cup (Mexico 1986).
A sellout crowd is expected for Canada’s 19th game on the qualifying road to Qatar 2022. Thursday’s 1-0 loss in Costa Rica is the lone blemish on that record — the Canadian men are 13-1-4 over three rounds.
The formula for success is simple.
Canada, which leads the final round of qualifying with 25 points (7-1-4), needs just one more point to secure qualification. It will also book its ticket to Qatar if fourth-place Costa Rica (5-3-4, 19 points) fails to win Sunday at El Salvador.
The Canadians, who have a three-point cushion over the U.S. and Mexico (both 6-2-4, 22 points), finish out the round Wednesday at fifth-place Panama (5-4-3, 18 points).
The top three teams will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean in Qatar this November-December. The fourth-place team will take on an Oceania country in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
A win Sunday and the Canadian men will also seal first place in the CONCACAF qualifying standings, following the success of the Canadian women who won gold at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
“To be honest, I believe we’re the best team in CONCACAF right now and we have to start acting like it,” said Eustaquio, who plays his club football for FC Porto in Portugal.
The forecast calls for minus-four, feeling like minus-12, with a chance of flurries for the 4 p.m. local time kickoff.
“This is going to be a wild night for football,” said Canada coach John Herdman, citing the weather and the patchy pitch.
“We just can’t take any backward step. It’s got to be front foot from the first whistle,” he added. “These conditions will level it a bit. It’ll allow them to impose their physicality.”
Herdman said the loss in Costa Rica was “the gut-punch we needed.”
“Get back down to earth. Get your feet on the ground. Let’s get this done,” he said. “Let’s just get back to business … At the end of the day, a group of men is going to have to put Canada into a World Cup and they’re going to have to work fricking hard (Sunday) against Jamaica in what I’d say are really tough conditions.”
Jamaica interim coach Paul Hall, while showing respect to Canada’s success, said his team has its own path.
“We’re not trying to prevent it,” said Hall, referencing Canada’s possible qualification. “Because we’ve got our own story to follow. We’ve got our own journey to go on. Yes, it does involve stopping Canada. But it’s not focused on Canada. We have to control the controllables. That means we just want to be competitive with Canada and grow on our performance the other day (a 1-1 tie with El Salvador).”
Securing World Cup qualification at BMO Field seems appropriate. Construction of the stadium, which opened in 2007, helped pave the way for the arrival of Major League Soccer in Canada via Toronto FC.
The stadium is also expected to play a major part in Canada’s portion of the 2026 World Cup, which it is co-hosting with the U.S. and Mexico.
It’s been a disappointing qualifying campaign, to say the least, for Jamaica (1-6-5, eight points).
The Canadian men were ranked 73rd in the world, compared to No. 47 for Jamaica, when they started World Cup qualifying in March 2021. Today Canada is 33rd while Jamaica is No. 62.
The Reggae Boyz, coming off a 1-1 tie with visiting El Salvador on Thursday, were one of five teams to receive a bye to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying but have managed just one win — a 2-0 decision in Honduras on Oct. 13.
Canada drew Jamaica 0-0 when the teams met Oct. 10 at the National Stadium in Kingston. The Canadian men are 9-6-7 all-time against Jamaica and are unbeaten (6-0-2) on home soil.
The Reggae Boyz are captained by Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.
Herdman said the Jamaicans cannot be discounted.
“This is a team that can play with freedom. It’s a team that’s going to have young, hungry players that want to prove themselves for their country.”
Jamaica fired coach Theodore Whitmore in early December after a 1-3-4 start to the final round of qualifying. Hall was elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach. He doubles as coach of Queens Park Rangers’ under-23 side in England.
Hall, who played for Jamaica at the 1998 World Cup in France, says he is not surprised by Canada’s success.
“They’ve restructured, rebuilt their team and got some form of philosophy that they’re following. Big respect to them,” Hall said. “Because I think that’s something that we’re going to try to do. You can only follow Canada’s example.
“So yeah, for me they haven’t been a surprise. When you plan it properly, you get to places where you want to get to. It may take five, 10 years but you start to get consistent results and I think that’s what you’re seeing now with Canada.”
Jamaica is without Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey, whom Hall said is dealing with a “personal matter.”
Herdman said defender Steven Vitoria will undergo a fitness test Sunday. He dressed in Costa Rica but did not see action.
Canada will be without Mark Anthony-Kaye, who is suspended after being sent off for two yellow cards in Costa Rica. The ejection drew social media abuse of the Colorado Rapids midfielder, prompting Canada Soccer to issue a statement condemning the attacks.
The Canadian men are unbeaten in competitive matches at BMO Field with an 11-0-5 record.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2022