Canada blanks Belize in 1st leg of World Cup qualifier
Canada ended its scoring drought with a 3-0 win over underdog Belize on Friday, setting the stage for what should be a comfortable return leg in the World Cup qualifier.
Tosaint Ricketts scored twice and Atiba Hutchinson added a stoppage-time goal for the Canadians, who were blanked in their last three games at the Gold Cup (0-1-2).
"Three goals, it's good," said Hutchinson, who had a fine game, from Toronto. "It could have been more, but three goals is still very good for us."
Three goals is a good result, but not enough to relax for the next game.- Canadian coach Benito Floro
Canadian coach Benito Floro agreed, saying his team controlled the game and could have won 8-0.
"The result, a little short, but good," the Spaniard said in English.
"Three goals is a good result, but not enough to relax for the next game," he added.
The return match is Tuesday in the Belize capital of Belmopan, where FFB Stadium was upgraded in 2014 to meet CONCACAF standards. Despite Floro's concern, an upset does not seem in the making.
In 2004, Canada dispatched the Jaguars 8-0 on aggregate when they met in a similar qualifying tie. Both matches were held in Kingston, Ont., because of the Belize stadium issue.
The Canadians are ranked 102nd in the world while Belize, whose population is around 350,000, is No. 128. British bookmaker William Hill had Belize as a 12-1 underdog.
It was one-way traffic, with Canadian 'keeper Kenny Stamatopoulos fighting boredom. Canada outshot Belize 12-1 (10-0 in shots on target) with the one shot charitable for the visitors.
Still Canada only led 1-0 at the half against a mostly part-time team it should have carved open. It dominated possession but showed little teeth in front of goal until late in the game as the visitors sagged before an announced crowd of just 10,412 at BMO Field.
Still, Friday's attendance was more than three times the capacity of the Belize venue.
The Canadians came out more aggressively in the second half, pushing Hutchinson further up the field. But the finishing continued to underwhelm, with Canadians getting in the way of their own shots on occasion.
Ricketts put Canada ahead in the 25th minute, poking the ball home after a goal-mouth scramble. Goalkeeper Woodrow West made a fine save to deny Cyle Larin's header but the ball deflected back towards the goal line. Samuel Piette failed to put it in but then Ricketts got a limb to it.
It was Canada's first goal in 308 minutes dating back to its last World Cup qualifier, a 4-0 win over Dominica on June 16.
Ricketts found the mark again in the 65th, deftly redirecting in a Nik Ledgerwood cross to make the score more respectable. Substitute Russell Teibert's cross found Hutchinson in front of goal for the final score.
Floro, whose coaching career stretches back more than 35 years, said it marked the first time that one of his squads had gone a whole game without having to handle a shot on target.
"It means our team played a very good game," he said.
De Guzman exits with injury
Midfielder Julian de Guzman, who only recently came back from an injury layoff, captained Canada but left in the 14th minute with a calf injury.
Belize tried to mount attacks but usually gave the ball away after a pass or two. Canada had far more of the ball, pushing Belize back deep into its half. The visitors started stacking nine or 10 men behind the ball.
We cannot defend against a good team. If we defend, we will always get hurt.- Belize assistant coach Charlie Slusher
Assistant coach Charlie Slusher lamented Belize going into a defensive shell.
"We cannot defend against a good team. If we defend, we will always get hurt," he said. "That was definitely not our game plan to come here and defend. But it happened."
He promised a "far different game" in Belize.
Belize has just three players who play outside their country, which is bordered to the north by Mexico, the south and west by Guatemala and the east by the Caribbean. One plays in Guatemala while two are in Honduras. The rest play semi-pro in the Belize league.
The Canada-Belize victor will become part of CONCACAF Group A in the fourth round, the penultimate stage of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean. That pool will feature No. 26 Mexico, No. 81 Honduras and either No. 107 El Salvador or No. 148 Curacao with only the top two advancing after round-robin play.
El Salvador beat Curacao 1-0 Friday.
Asked what those teams might think of Canada's performance, Floro said it was a good step on the qualifying journey.
While he conceded Mexico was a cut above, he said the other three teams in the group will "have the same possibilities."