Brampton scores, Ajax defends as Canada advances to CONCACAF Nations League semi-finals

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Published March 29, 2023 at 8:29 am

TORONTO – Brampton’s Cyle Larin scored twice early as Canada advanced to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals with a dominant 4-1 win over Honduras on Tuesday.

Jonathan David (Ottawa) and Brampton’s Jonathan Osorio added second-half goals for the 53rd-ranked Canadians, who controlled the game from the get-go. Jorge Benguchi scored a consolation goal for No. 81 Honduras.

Canada (3-1-0) came into the contest knowing a draw would be enough to win Group C and advance to the tournament final four in Las Vegas in June. Honduras (2-2-0) needed a win.

The drama did not last long, with Canada leading 2-0 after just 12 minutes. Larin could have had a hat trick in the first half had he not sent a 42nd-minute penalty wide.

Honduras had no answer for Canada’s multi-pronged attack before a modest, but exuberant crowd of 13,626 on a mild evening at BMO Field.

The home side hogged the ball early, as shown by one 21-pass sequence. And Canada went ahead in the ninth minute, cutting through the Honduras defence like a hot knife through butter, on a beautiful give-and-go between Osorio and Larin with Larin slotting the ball home through a defender’s legs. Alphonso Davies triggered the attack down the left flank.

Larin made it 2-0 in the 12th minute, heading home a perfect Stephen Eustaquio corner after his marker, defender Denil Maldonado, lost his footing. Larin, who has scored five goals in his first eight games for Spain’s Real Valladolid, increased his Canada total to 28 goals in 60 appearances.

David had a chance to make it 3-0 in the 26th minute but squibbed his shot wide with the Honduran defence in disarray.

Another Davies attack set up the penalty late in the first half with the Bayern Munich star beating four defenders. The ball found its way to Ismael Kone, who controlled it with his thigh and then hammered a shot from just inside the penalty box that hit Maldonado’s arm.

El Salvador referee Ivan Barton immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Larin’s ensuing penalty glanced off the outside of the post.

It was Canada’s first penalty since Davies’ spot kick was saved by Belgium’s Thibault Courtois at the World Cup in Qatar.

As impressive Canada’s offence was, it was its stout backline of Alistair Johnstone, Scott Kennedy and Derek Cornelius of Ajax – making his second straight start and 16th career cap – that prevented the Hondurans from getting anything going as Canada had two-thirds of possession and seven shots on target vs one for the visitors.

Cornelius was usually the last man back but also pushed up front on occasion and was there beside Larin when he rose to meet Eustaquio’s corner for the second goal and even had a chance of his own, sending the ball over the bar late in the second half.

David made it 3-0 in the 49th, in the right place at the right time after Tajon Buchanan, another Brampton footballer, sliced into the Honduras penalty box at speed. His cross hit a couple of defenders, evading Larin but falling at the feet of David for the Lille striker’s 24th goal for Canada in 40 appearances.

Honduras was unable to dent the Canadian defence with goalkeeper Milan Borjan cheered in the second half when he made a rare save.

Canada coach John Herdman went to his bench in the 61st minute, sending on Atiba Hutchinson, Sam Adekugbe, Richie Laryea and Kyle Hiebert. Davies moved up in attack.

It was cap No. 103 for the 40-year-old Hutchinson, adding to his Canadian men’s record, and No. 1 for Hiebert, a late call-up from St. Louis City FC after Kamal Miller was ruled out by injury. Herdman might have considered inserting Pickering goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair into the game with Canada up big but had already used up his five substitutes.

Benguchi would put Honduras on the board in the 73rd minute, flicking a header backwards off a corner.

Osorio restored the three-goal lead in the 86th minute, taking a perfect pass from Toronto FC teammate Ayo Akinola before bursting through two defenders to beat goalkeeper Luis Lopez.

The 13th-ranked U.S. and No. 15 Mexico had already booked their ticket to the final four in Las Vegas. They met in the final of the tournament’s inaugural edition in June 2021 with the Americans winning 3-2 after extra time in Denver, thanks to a Christian Pulisic penalty in the 114th minute.

Panama joined Canada to complete the group with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica Tuesday. Canada and Panama will meet June 15 in one semi-final in Las Vegas with Mexico and USA clashing in the other.

Canada missed out on the final four in the inaugural tournament, finishing runner-up to the U.S. in its group on goal difference.

Herdman and defender/wingback Alistair Johnston were back against Honduras after sitting out the 2-0 away win Saturday over No. 86 Curaçao through suspension in the wake of being sent off last June in a hot-blooded 2-1 loss in Honduras.

Seven Canadian players were yellow-carded on a rain-soaked night in San Pedro Sula, with Johnston sent off after receiving a second yellow in the 94th minute. Defender Raheem Edwards and Herdman were both red-carded after the final whistle.

Johnston replaced the suspended Steven Vitoria in the back three while Buchanan, who saw action off the bench against Curaçao after dealing with a minor hamstring issue, moved into the starting 11.

The Canadians improved to 9-12-7 all-time against Honduras, including 6-2-3 on home soil.

Tuesday’s game was the first for the Canadian men at BMO Field since the historic 4-0 victory over Jamaica that sealed World Cup qualification on March 27 last year and are now unbeaten in 16 matches at home (15-0-1) and have won their last eight. Their last loss on Canadian soil was 3-0 to Mexico in March 2018 in World Cup qualifying.

Canada has not lost at BMO Field since September 2010 when it was beaten 2-0 by Peru. It has gone 15-0-6 at the lakefront stadium since then, outscoring the opposition 54-6.

That run was all against CONCACAF opposition, with the exception of a 2-2 tie with Ecuador that came on the heels of the Peru loss.

The CONCACAF Nations League features 41 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean split into three tiers: League A (12 teams), B (16) and C (13).

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

With files from Glenn Hendry

Derek Cornelius gets congratulated by Alphonso Davies after  a Cyle Larin goal in Canada’s 4-1 win over Honduras. Photo Glenn Hendry

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