Canadian men beat Honduras in World Cup qualifying
Cyle Larin nets winner in 38th minute
Canada envisioned nights like this when David (Junior) Hoilett finally committed to play for the country of his birth.
The speedy winger set up Cyle Larin's goal in the 38th minute and showed an ability to dribble at pace the men's national team hasn't seen in some time as Canada downed Honduras 1-0 in World Cup qualifying on Friday.
"Junior made a big difference tonight," said Canadian midfielder Will Johnson. "I'm not sure we win this game without him. He's special and he creates moments, little bits of magic."
The magic in front of a raucous crowd of 20,108 at B.C. Place Stadium came in the form of a stinging cross from the left on a counter attack that found Johnson, whose downward header at the far post struck Larin in the back as he fell to the turf and dribbled over the line.
"It was fabulous," Hoilett said of his competitive international debut. "A great performance and a great result."
Hoilett was also eligible to play for Jamaica or England, but finally chose Canada in September after years of indecision.
"We know he'll bring a lot for the team," said Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson. "I think he had a good game and we all know he's got more to show."
Larin, meanwhile, didn't know much about his fourth goal in seven starts for the national team.
"A goal's a goal," said the 20-year-old who was just named Major League Soccer's rookie of the year. "When I got up I didn't even know I hit it."
Friday's result was crucial for Canada, which is ranked 102nd in the world, as it opened the penultimate round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with a much-needed victory.
The game marked the first meeting between the teams since the Canadians travelled to Honduras in October 2012 needing only a draw to make the final round of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil. Canada instead took an embarrassing 8-1 loss on the chin in San Pedro Sula that crushed the country's hopes of making the tournament for the first time since its only appearance in 1986.
"We all wanted to try and forget about that, but obviously we wanted to get a little payback for that game," said Hutchinson. "With it being the first game of the group, it's a good start for us. We're happy with that, we just have to take it from here."
While the stunning rout at Estadio Olimpico three years ago got most of the attention, Canada did itself no favours four months earlier when Honduras secured a 0-0 draw in Toronto. Had the Canadians won that game, the outcome of the return match wouldn't have mattered.
"I think we were all bummed out by the opportunity we missed," said Johnson. "That's why we played so hard tonight, because we're trying to rectify that."
Among the 12 countries left standing in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, Canada is in one of three four-team groups along with No. 24 Mexico, No. 94 El Salvador and No. 95 Honduras.
The two best teams in each round-robin pool advance to the final round of qualifying, with the top three getting World Cup places, while the fourth will take on an Asian country in a two-game playoff.
Canada almost doubled its lead on Friday in the 63rd minute when Johnson hammered a free kick from 35 yards out that goalkeeper Noel Valladares just got a touch to before it struck the post and stayed out.
Honduran midfielder Mario Martinez had a shot from distance in the 76th, but Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan did enough to push it over the crossbar.
Borjan then spilled another Martinez shot from well out six minutes later before scrambling to gather up the rebound, but Canada would hold the fort from there to claim all three valuable points.
Both teams continue qualifying on Tuesday, with Canada travelling to El Salvador, and Honduras hosting Mexico.
"It was a good start for us. I think we controlled the game," said Hutchinson. "We started off with a lot of confidence and played the way we wanted to."