Canada is returning to the FIFA U-17 World Cup after a 16-year absence.
And a young Canadian side did it in style, showcasing its stingy defence and possession soccer in a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday in the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF U-17 tournament.
The top four teams from the 12-country CONCACAF qualifier, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, move on to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico from June 18 to July 10.
Canada's goals came from 15-year-old Chris Nanco and 16-year-old Keven Aleman, both of Brampton, Ont., with Maxime Crepeau of Candiac, Que., posting his third straight shutout.
Aleman is part of the Toronto FC Academy while Crepeau is with the Montreal Impact Academy.
Nanco plays for the Sigma FC Academy and has had training stints in England in the youth setup of Premiership teams Liverpool and Newcastle
Canada has outscored its opposition 10-0 in three games.
The jubilant Canadians celebrated in a pile on the pitch before heading to the stands waving a Canadian flag to friends, family and supporters.
Canada has not reached the world championship at this level since 1995, missing out on the last seven U-17 World Cups.
"I don't know if people realize in the quality of the football in CONCACAF, and how it's improved," said Canadian coach Sean Fleming.
"You can see by all the results here. Beyond our Barbados result (Canada won 8-0), every game's been a one-goal, two-goal game. You see the U.S. yesterday pushed right to extra time by El Salvador.
"The quality of the teams is very, very good. And especially then when you come down into the conditions that we sometimes have to qualify in, it makes it even that much more difficult."
Fleming saluted the provincial associations and players' clubs back home, saying "they had a big part in all these kids' development."
And he paid tribute to national coach Stephen Hart, a former under-17 coach, for Canada's possession-style of play. Hart has long preached playing the long ball in hot conditions is not a recipe for success.
"He taught me that a long time ago," said Fleming, who is at his fifth U-17 qualifying tournament either as coach or assistant coach.
Canada (2-0-1) will play upstart Panama (1-1-1) in Friday's semifinal.
The U.S. has also qualified for the U-17 World Cup with a quarter-final win Tuesday. Jamaica defeated Honduras 2-1 Wednesday to become the fourth team to move on from the CONCACAF region.
The four are now playing for bragging rights and a more favourable seeding at the U-17 World Cup draw.
Canada was good value for Wednesday's win, dominating possession in the first half. Trinidad came on late in the first half and had a string of corners early in the second, but failed to breach the Canadian defence and tired under the hot conditions as the game wore on.
In the 15th minute, Nanco pounced when Parker Seymour's long throw was flicked on in traffic by Daniel Stanese. Nanco lost his marker at the far post and headed the ball past goalkeeper Quesi Weston.
Aleman, like Nanco a native of Brampton, Ont., doubled the lead in the 20th minute on a fine solo effort, dribbling past defenders before firing home a left-footed shot from the edge of the box.
"A very special goal," said Fleming.
The Canadians advanced to the quarter-finals of the 12-team tournament by finishing first in Group D, thumping Barbados before tying Honduras 0-0.
Trinidad and Tobago placed second in Group C after a drawing of lots to break a tie with host Jamaica. Trinidad hosted the 2001 U-17 FIFA World Cup and qualified for the 2007 event.
On Tuesday, the United States extended its record of making every U-17 World Cup field, beating El Salvador 3-2 to qualify for the 14th time.
Marc Pelosi scored the winning goal in the 112th minute in a game that featured 52 fouls and three ejections — two on the U.S. side and one for El Salvador.
In the other quarter-final Tuesday, Panama upset Costa Rica 1-0 on the strength of a 76th-minute Alfredo Stevens goal.
The Panamanians are making their debut in the final round of the CONCACAF championship. In contrast, Costa Rica had been to the last five U-17 World Cups and seven in all.
Canada has failed to qualify for the U-17 World Cup since the 1995 tournament in Ecuador. Canada also took part in the 1989 (Scotland) and 1993 (Japan) world under-17 championships and hosted the event in 1987.
Canada has lost all 12 of its games at the world tournament and been outscored 42-3.