By Paul Nicholson in Houston
July 1 – On a hot and intense night in Houston, Canada and Guatemala played out a frantic 0-0 draw that leaves both teams with work to do to qualify for the next round.
A baying Guatemalan crowd pretty much filled the 22,000 capacity Shell Energy Stadium with the expectation that their team could turn over Canada, who two weeks ago were competing in the final of the Nations League in Las Vegas. Their expectation and passion transferred to a match which made up for its lack of quality in the box with unwavering commitment. It was fantastically exhausting, for fans and players alike.
Guatemala have fast improved in the last year under coach Luis Tena, and they desperate to challenge the best. And if Canada are one of the best then they were properly challenged. Canadian coach John Herdman emphasised that there are now no easy matches in Concacaf. Particularly if you don’t bring your best players.
It didn’t help that Canada were without superstars like Alphonso Davies who are back with their European clubs, but they sorely missed Jonathan David and Kyle Larin’s goals and attacking threat. The maple leaf is wilting in the heat having grown so impressively strong over the past four years. Or perhaps being almost there is Canada’s comfort zone?
For all their huff and puff in the evening heat Canada will be kicking themselves for not taking advantage of their early control of the game.
Canada had the bulk of possession in the first half but did not threaten enough inside the Guatemalan box. Lucas Cavallini, leading the Canadian line, had little to feed on as Guatemala’s two banks of defenders shifted shape to match whatever Canada threw at them and were always first to the ball.
Nicolas Samayoa in the middle of the back was imperious.
On seven minutes Guatemala had their first real incursion into the Canada half with the impressive and powerful Nathaniel Mendez rounding his man but being pulled down. Minutes later the same happened to Darwin Lom who was pulled down by Kamal Miller.
Where Canada looked comfortable in possession, Guatemala were equally comfortable soaking it up and hitting them on the counter.
On 19 minutes the best chance of the first half fell to Mendez. Shooting across the box left to right Milan Borjan made a crucial stop low down. 10 minutes later Canada had their best chance with Junior Holliet volleying over the bar.
As Canada failed to create chances so Guatemala started to flow forward with more men. On 32 minutes Jose Ardon hit a free header into the ground and saw it bounce over the top. Soon after Aaron Herrera, a class act in defence and going forward on the right, put a shot just over the top of Borjan’s bar.
No score at half time but the game was opening up as it frantically shifted from end to end. The first chance of the second half fell to Guatemala. A ball across the box saw it miss the outstretched boot of Carlos Meija by an inch.
For Canada Kamal Miller should have had a push in the box reviewed by VAR, while Ali Ahmed in non-stop motion looked most likely to find the openings.
As Canada laboured in the heat and with the unrelenting pace of, Guatemala were screamed on by Guatemala’s similarly unrelenting fans.
With players down on the 70-minute mark a water break was taken and the Guatemalan Mexican wave took over – it didn’t so much as ripple round the stadium, it frenetically crashed around it.
The game resumed with the same intensity. On 88 minutes Herrera down the right turned his man but his cross was headed into a diving Borjan’s gloves.
Even into the final five minutes of added time the game was box to box.
The final result was fair but it leaves Canada a lot to do to qualify for the knockout rounds and they need to find a way to convert possession into goals. Guatemala aren’t through either and have the harder tie against Guadeloupe.
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