Soccer really does bring people together.
The World Cup qualifier between Canada and Mexico on March 25th was no exception, with drunken fans of both teams joining arms and voices after the match had finished to proclaim their hatred for a mutual enemy:
That hatred was the sum total of match antagonism, with a feel-good atmosphere in B.C. Place defusing the animosity usually associated with matches between geographic rivals. Unfortunately for Canada, that may have been because there really wasn’t any competition to speak of on the pitch.
In front of the biggest ever crowd for a Canadian national team in any sport, Mexico cruised to a 3-0 win, showcasing the gulf in quality between the two teams.
Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano, and Jesus Corona all tallied for Mexico in a game that offered opportunities aplenty for both teams to have scored four or five goals apiece.
The win puts Mexico four points clear at the top of its World Cup qualifying group, but a draw between El Salvador and Honduras means Canada is in second place, and still on track to advance into the final stage of World Cup qualification.
Canada started the game brightly, pressing Mexico with impressive pace and aggression, and almost took the lead when Canadian winger Junior Hoilett found himself latching onto a loose ball in the Mexican box. Unfortunately for him, and the thousands of Canadian fans in attendance, his shot flew high and wide of the goal.
It was a golden opportunity for Canada, and one that will stick in many Canadian throats considering the way the game continued after.
With 30 minutes gone, Mexico took the lead. Full-back Miguel Layun found himself in acres of space on the left of midfield, with all the time needed to provide the perfect cross for striker Javier Hernandez, whose header gave the Mexican team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The majority of Mexico’s roster had featured in the World Cup just two years previously, and their quality showed when Mexican midfielder Hirving Lozano made it 2-0.
Just four minutes before half time, Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson lost possession in a crowded midfield. With a speed that Canada wouldn’t match all evening, Hernandez threaded a through ball through to Lozano, who ghosted past all four of Canada’s defenders and slotted home, unchallenged, at the goalkeeper’s near post.
Canada finished the first half with more chances; another opportunity came after some lovely link-up play at the top of the penalty area, but again winger Hoilett fired his shot high and wide.
Two goals to the good starting the second half, Mexico started to let up the intensity. With their opposition’s guard down, Canada knew that one goal would make the game much more competitive and put the travelling team under pressure.
That chance came when the ball bounced kindly for Cyle Larin, putting him 15 yards away from goal with only the keeper to beat. But, in a fashion befitting Canada’s performance, his lame shot was easily saved by the right foot of Mexican goalie Alfredo Talavera.
Around the 70th minute Canada began to tire, and countless misplaced passes and unforced errors allowed Mexico to flood forward again and again. Jesus Corona added a third for El Tri: a stinging shot from inside the penalty area that Borjan could only palm upwards into the roof of the net.
With nothing much else happening in the final few minutes, Mexico left Canada with all three points. The two played again at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Tuesday, with Mexico winning 2-0.