TORONTO – Canada had hoped to take two victories and some breathing room into a two-month break between World Cup qualifying games.
Instead, the Canadians played Honduras to a frustrating 0-0 draw Tuesday on a night that will go down as an opportunity lost.
“These are the games you have to win and we didn’t win it,” said captain Kevin McKenna. “It’s games like this that can get you qualified for the next round, lets hope we don’t look back on this game and rue the two points we didn’t get.”
The Canadians will have to settle for four points from their first two matches in the third round of CONCACAF qualifying as they continue their quest for the country’s first World Cup berth since 1986.
Panama leads the group with six points after beating Cuba 1-0 on Tuesday. The Canadians host Panama in their next qualifying game on Sept. 7.
No. 77 Canada came into the game buoyed by a 1-0 victory over Cuba on Friday in Havana, and was the better side on the night, maintaining possession for most of the game and creating numerous scoring opportunities in front of a mostly pro-Canadian crowd of 16,132 at BMO Field.
But finishing proved problematic once again for the Canadians, who otherwise played a well-organized, disciplined game that had the 55th-ranked Hondurans chasing the ball all over the pitch.
“I think we should have come away with something from the game in terms of three points, but we didn’t lose the game which was important,” said Canada coach Stephen Hart. “If we keep creating chances, then hopefully somebody will hit form, but we missed some easy chances.
“We need to be better on that. I really cannot rectify the problem because now I don’t see these players until September.”
Canada hammered the Honduran net in the final few minutes, with perhaps the best scoring opportunity coming on a corner kick in injury time that Simeon Jackson headed just wide just before the final whistle. A couple of minutes earlier, McKenna headed a corner kick just wide of the Honduras net.
Defender David Edgar connected on a corner kick in the 68th minute that he booted wide left, hollering at himself in frustration as he ran back up the pitch. That came 10 minutes after Julian de Guzman launched a beautiful free kick directly on net, but no Canadians in the crowded six-yard-box managed to get a foot or head on.
“Obviously disappointed to not get the three points at home, but very pleased with the effort the guys showed for the full 90 minutes. I think the way we played, the football we played, no-one made any mistakes, we’ve got a lot of positives to take away from this game,” said Canadian veteran Dwayne De Rosario.
Hart praised the play of the midfield, which kept the ball moving and the Hondurans on their heels.
“Julien de Guzman was fantastic, Atiba (Hutchinson) moved the ball well, Will Johnson putting in a lot of energy . . . a good performance,” Hart said.
The Canadians said they had expected a stiffer fight from Honduras, which was coming off a 2-0 loss to 46th-ranked Panama in its opener last week. What chances the visitors did have came off counterattacks or from well outside the goal area. Their best opportunity came in the 40th minute when Antony Lozano got his foot on a cross from Oscar Garcia, but he chipped it just over the net.
“I thought they were going to be better, because people were saying ‘Honduras this, Honduras that,’ but then we came out and were dominating the whole game almost,” said Canadian ‘keeper Milan Borjan. “They just got lucky because they’ll take a point from here.”
The Canadians, meanwhile, had arrived back home riding momentum from a strong performance in Havana where they overcame scorching temperatures to win on a pitch that McKenna said was the worst he’d ever played on.
Tuesday’s conditions at BMO Field were nearly perfect, with temperatures in the low 20s and clear skies following an afternoon shower.
While there had been concerns over a pro-Honduran crowd — international games in this multicultural city have been like away games for Canada in the past — the majority of the fans were supporting the home team. The south grandstand was a sea of chanting red-and-white-clad supporters, while a group of just a few hundred Hondurans took up part of the north grandstand.
“Fantastic. That’s what we need,” Hart said. “That little push on the end, they almost took us over the top, I’ve got to thank them.”
The top two teams in the group will advance to the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The Canadians will host Cuba on Oct. 12, and will also travel to Panama and Honduras in the fall.