“Iceteca” is what it’s being called—a Canadian take on Mexico’s nearly impregnable fortress of a stadium, the Azteca.
Nov. 16, 2021, at Commonwealth Stadium in frigid Edmonton will be remembered as one of the most memorable nights for Canadian soccer, but also a compelling suggestion of just what the team might be able to achieve at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Canada defeated the CONCACAF region’s perennial powerhouse Mexico 2-1 in front of almost 50,000 fans. Canada hadn’t beaten “El Tri” since the 2000 Gold Cup—a tournament they went on to win.
“It’s a proud night for the lads,” said Canada’s head coach John Herdman. “You have to dream. We’re for real.”
After 8 of 14 games in the final eight-team round robin tournament—dubbed the “Octagonal”—Canada is in first place, undefeated with four wins and four draws, leading the tournament in goals scored, and tied with the United States for fewest goals allowed.
The top three teams automatically qualify for the World Cup. At this stage, Canada looks certain to book their place in Qatar. It would be the first World Cup for Canada since 1986.
Results aside, Canada has also shown the qualities in all phases of the game that a team needs to compete with the best in the world.
Canada is displaying the mental maturity to manage a game against vaunted opposition.
To beat a team like Mexico requires playing a near-perfect match.
El Tri were down two goals but snagged a very late one and then nearly equalized in stoppage time. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan made a vital save on the goal line.
Those were nervy moments for Canada as it has been through heartbreaking losses to teams like Mexico in the recent past.
It’s a part of top-level international football to know how to kill off a game, however it needs to be done—sometimes venturing into the realm of the “dark arts,” or creative ways to run out the clock.
Canada’s young, talented team has picked up this experience from playing in tournaments like the Gold Cup. And now, the naiveté appears to be gone and the talent, athleticism, and experience is all coming together.
A team has to be able to score goals, and Canada has the attacking wizardry to do just that. The attacking threat comes with speed and skill. Canada showed it could pose a serious threat on the counter-attack against a team like Mexico that likes to possess the ball.
It starts with Alphonso Davies, one of the fastest players in the world, who holds down the left fullback position with Germany’s top club Bayern Munich. Davies trains and plays with some of the best players on the planet and has already won a European Champions League title.
Jonathan David is a leading striker in France’s top division. Cyle Larin, who plays his professional football in Turkey, scored both of Canada’s goals—one in each half. Larin is also scoring goals in the European Champions League.
Having a creative and dynamic midfield is critical and Stephen Eustaquio has shown on numerous occasions how precise he can be with free kicks. It also helps to have a steady hand like Atiba Hutchinson alongside.
Hutchinson, 38, became Canada’s all-time leader in matches played (caps) and said he never experienced a game like this.
“We wanted to go out there and make a statement and that’s what we did today,” he said.
Earlier in the qualifiers, Canada went to Mexico’s intimidating Azteca stadium and fought to a 1-1 draw. It also recorded a draw in the United States.
The future looks extremely bright for Canada. It has exceeded expectations thus far in the Octagonal and looking way down the road, making some noise at Qatar 2022 appears realistic.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports