Cyle Larin scored late in the first half and early in the second for Canada, who emerged as surprise leaders in CONCACAF qualifying, beating an erratic and frozen Mexico on Tuesday 2-1 who fell to the third place.
With a temperature of 11 degrees below zero at the Commonwealth Stadium, whose ground had to be cleared of snow, the “Tri” sank into its most alarming crisis during the almost three years of manager Gerardo Martino.
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Larin opened the scoring in the second minute as a first-half substitute, taking advantage of a blunder by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Further negligence, this time from the Mexican defense, left the Besiktas striker alone to make it 2-0 at 52.
With 10 goals tied, Larin tied Dwayne de Rosario as the Canadian with the most international goals, with 22.
With losses on their visits to the United States and Canada in this double date of the Octagonal Playoff Final, Mexico sank from first to third place. From then on, he clings to the last passage which grants a direct classification to Qatar, with 14 points, the same as Panama, current recipient of the invitation to the intercontinental qualifiers.
Héctor Herrera closed Mexico with a header one minute from time. It was only then and in added time that Mexico created opportunities in attack. Jorge Sánchez then found himself alone with a ball in front of goalkeeper Milan Borjan, without giving him a goal.
“One of the players with the least continuity, like Héctor Herrera in his team, was Mexico’s best player,” Martino said of the Atlético de Madrid midfielder.
Unexpectedly, Canada leads the tie with 16 points, one ahead of the United States, who resigned with a draw on the day when they visited Jamaica.
Beyond the setbacks of Cincinnati and Edmonton, those led by Martino showed very little footballing generation and, with the exception of the home stretch, were dominated for long periods by the Maple Leafs team.
Martino had another interpretation.
“We had a good first half. It’s true that by canceling out the possibilities Canada had, especially in attack, we lacked a little more offensive play and clarity… And in the second half -time, when we returned to our usual pattern, they had a better game, they had depth, especially in the last 15 minutes, “commented the Argentinian strategist.
In the back, the Mexican players made blunder after blunder, suffering their first loss by knockout against the Canadians since October 1976.
Ochoa spat a shot from Alistair Johnston well outside the area. With all the facilities, Larin arrived to take advantage of the rebound and open the scoring.
At 71, the Jamaican-born striker has come back to life. On a free kick, he broke the offside trap, in front of a Mexican defense which was taking a nap.
He came to the rendezvous on time with the ball and stretched his right leg to finish Ochoa on the nose. The Canadians celebrated by throwing themselves into snowdrifts at the side of the field.
“You have to look to improve, in football, in defensive work, in attacking work,” said ‘Tata’ Martino. “We will continue to insist on that and basically try to reduce the errors which, especially in the last games, are the ones that made us lose.”
Towards the end of the game, a fight broke out between players from both teams.
Canada travel to Honduras on January 27, the next date of the encounter and with an increasingly clear opportunity to attend what would be their first World Cup date since Mexico 1986.
The Mexican team will play their third consecutive away game, this time against Jamaica. Ahead of this commitment, a media storm is expected to spread over the Christmas season for Argentine Martino in Mexico.
During the videoconference after the duel, a journalist already asked Martino if it had occurred to him to leave his post.
“It crosses my mind to get better, nothing more than that,” he replied.
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