Canada is in the driver’s seat as the third round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF hits the halfway mark.
With time winding down in the second half at BMO Field on Friday night, it looked as if another scoreless draw was on the horizon, a result that would have placed the squad third in Group C.
But a familiar tactic in the 78th minute gave Canada a 1-0 win against Panama and completely altered the standings.
The team now sits on top of the group with seven points. Friday’s opposition, Panama, is close behind with six. Honduras has four points. And Cuba remains in the basement of Group C with zero.
“This is something every Canadian dreams of if you’re a fan or a player,” Julian de Guzman said following the win. “We’re in the driver’s seat for the first time in a long time. It’s just a great feeling.”
De Guzman isn’t the only one in Canada’s squad who’s ecstatic about heading to Panama atop the group. Midfielder Patrice Bernier also acknowledged that it’s been quite some time since the team has been in a position like this.
“It’s great,” said Bernier after the match. “Seven points. When’s the last campaign that Canada’s been first in any type of group? Even the Gold Cup.
“So it’s a great moral boost for the team. We needed that confidence boost to show that we’re a very good team and shouldn’t be afraid of anybody.”
Bernier added that the result will do wonders psychologically for a squad that has been knocked down time and time again.
“Before, the biggest problem is we don’t have that winning spirit. We’re not used to winning. But knowing now that we’re first in the group with a big win against Panama at home, we’re bit under the gun when we go down there.”
Striker Tosaint Ricketts was another Canadian player who couldn’t contain his smile following the victory. He admits the result has altered how Canada will enter the second half of qualifying in the third round.
“It’s all the difference,” said Ricketts in the post-match scrum. “Everybody came with the same mentality.
“We needed those three points playing at home. Going into Panama now, it’s going to be a battle. But we just have to let this win ride out, get a result there, and we’ll be good.”
Midfielder Will Johnson was a little more reserved about the situation following the match. Despite being happy to be in first place, he admits there is an added pressure of being on top of the group.
“It’s good,” said Johnson. “But there’s always a challenge when you’re the first place team.
Johnson continued by adding that Panama won’t be an easy place to go no matter where Canada lies in the standings.
“No matter what the score had been, it’s going to be tough to go down there and get a result.”
But De Rosario’s goal on Friday’s night has undoubtedly taken some pressure off of Canada as the entire team knows that getting three points in Panama next Tuesday will be a tougher task than winning at BMO Field.
And although the squad may be sitting in first place, there is still lots of work to be done if the team hopes to reach the FIFA World Cup for only the second time in the nation’s history.