Canada finishes atop group at CONCACAF U-17
Canada played Honduras to a 0-0 draw Saturday to finish atop its group at the CONCACAF men's under-17 Championship in Jamaica.
Now the Canadians are one win away from earning their first U17 World Cup berth in 16 years.
"I'm proud of how the guys came through everything, finishing with a clean sheet and at the top of the group," Canadian coach Sean Fleming said. "They were playing under trying circumstances, the field wasn't in great condition and then you add in the heat, we were playing in the heat of the day."
The Canadians battle Trinidad & Tobago in Wednesday's quarter-finals, with a victory earning them a spot in the world tournament in Mexico from June 18 to July 10.
Canada and Honduras had already qualified for the quarter-finals, and based on goal differential the Canadians needed only a tie to finish atop Group C.
Playing in 29 C heat and stifling humidity, the Canadians had several chances in the first half before the pace slowed down in the second, with the Hondurans sitting back in their own end.
"We needed a tie to be first in the group, so we kept possession for long spells of time and they didn't seem to come out and want to take the ball from us, so at that time of the game, with the heat and everything, for the last 10 minutes we were quite happy to keep possession," Fleming said in a phone interview.
Canada outshot Honduras 10-2 and had six corner kicks in the first half.
Keven Aleman came close to scoring midway through the first half off a corner when a rebound came to Aleman inside the six-yard box with his back to the goal. His back-heeled attempt was stopped by Honduran 'keeper Roberto Lopez.
The couple of times Honduras did have chances in the second half, Canadian goaltender Maxime Crepeau came up with big saves.
Fleming was pleased to see a dozen or so Canadian flags in the crowd and about 100 Canadian fans -- mostly tourists from nearby resorts.
"We're staying in a resort here and the Canadian people in the resort are just fantastic with the kids," Fleming said. "We arrive home from games and people come up and ask the boys how they did.
"If we could be strategic and get the word out to all the resorts, the Canadians are playing Wednesday, it would be great to have their support," he added, laughing.
Fleming said he'll spend time over the next few days watching video of the Trinidad & Tobago squad, and expects a stiff challenge in Wednesday's quarter-final match.
"All 12 teams here are competitive and good sides," Fleming said. "Our game against Barbados (an 8-0 Canada victory) was a bit of an anomaly, we scored three goals early and that got us on a bit of a roll.
"All the other results in all the other groups have been really close, one-goal, two-goal games. All the teams here are good quality so we'll have to be at our best and if we perform like we can, we have a good chance."
Canada has missed out on the last seven world under-17 championships, failing to qualify since going 0-3 and exiting after the first round of the 1995 event in Ecuador.
Fleming said he'll caution his players not to look past Wednesday's game to the World Cup.
"We'll focus on performance," he said. "If you take care of performance, you take care of the little things, then the result will come hopefully."
Canada's starting 11 Saturday had Crepeau in goal, Adam Polakiewicz, Ismail Benomar, Luca Gasparotto, and Parker Seymour on defence, and Bryce Alderson, Shadrack Mmunga, Wesley Cain, Chris Nanco, Keven Aleman and Jay Chapman from midfield up through to the attack.
Canada made three substitutions in the second half, replacing Aleman, Benomar and Mmunga for Michael Petrasso, Daniel Stanese, and Matteo Pasquotti.