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EDMONTON For all the joy the Canadian men’s soccer team got out of beating Mexico in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night, the hard work is not done.
“We’ve only got six games left, six tough matches,” coach John Herdman said. “We’ve just got keep our feet on the ground, keep looking for those opportunities to get any one per cent that we can on these opponents. The group is so tight, this isn’t going to be over until the last round, is my belief. So we just have to keep fighting.”
Canada sits atop the qualification standings in this region after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory. Games resume in January in pursuit of three direct berths in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place team advances to a last-chance playoff.
Here’s what lies ahead for the Canadians.
The competition: The next international window will see Canada play at Honduras on Jan. 26, host the United States on Jan. 29 and visit El Salvador on Feb. 1. After that, Canada visits Costa Rica on March 23, hosts Jamaica on March 26 and travels to Panama on March 29.
The challenge: What exactly will it take for Canada to qualify for the men’s World Cup for the first time since 1986? It’s too soon to tell.
There is a divide between the top four and bottom four in the standings — fourth-place Panama has 14 points to Costa Rica’s nine in fifth — but with three direct berths and a playoff spot to play for, even bottom-dweller Honduras at three points still has a mathematical shot.
Mexico, now third, has the most favourable remaining schedule : four of six games at home, and just two against teams in the current top four. The United States, now second, and Panama have to play three at home and three games away, with three each against top-four squads. Canada’s schedule is difficult with four away dates, but they only have two matches left against top-four teams.
No matter how you slice it, this could go right down to the wire.
The locations: While BC Place in Vancouver was initially presumed to be an option because of the relatively warm weather on the West Coast, travel among Honduras, British Columbia and El Salvador over an eight-day break would be taxing. And Herdman said this week that the BC Place turf isn’t in the best condition.
“We’ve got some idea on where January needs to be. I think everyone’s got to understand the travel realities of January. There’s some ridiculous travel commitments there and we’ve got to put the players health and safety, as well as the performance first,” Herdman said Tuesday.
BMO Field and Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field could be options, if Canada is once again willing to brave the elements and looking to welcome American fans to a city near the border. Don’t even ask about where the final home game in March against Jamaica will be played.
The coverage: The remaining games will be broadcast on OneSoccer and Sportsnet.
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