Canada heads into their second leg of the third round of World Cup qualifying traveling south to the Central American eco-tourist destination of Belize. After a comfortable 3-0 win on Friday night, it would appear at first glance as a match where Canada simply needs to go through the motions to secure passage to the fourth round group stage. However, this fixture could serve as excellent preparation for the next round as it appears all three opponents will be part of North or Central America. If Benito Floro develops an approach with Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador in mind, this away leg to Belize could offer the team much more than back to back wins against a poorly ranked CONCACAF opponent.
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Canada vs Belize
Canada travels to Belize for their Tuesday match with a 3-0 aggregate lead from Friday night. In that match, Canada dominated possession and opportunities as their opponent offered little in terms of attacking prowess and focused primarily on keeping men behind the ball and trying to disrupt chances on net. For the most part, Belize was successful in preventing the final pass in creating a clear cut chance on target, but Canada did well in scrappy moments to fight in the six yard box and knock the ball over the line.
It was encouraging to see Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson make their return to the national side, as both players brought confidence and experience to the midfield. Tosaint Ricketts continues to defy his statistics at the club level and since the last round of World Cup qualifying, has been a determined part of the attack and consistent over the last year in scoring for Canada. The side was not tested very often on the defensive side, and this could change on Tuesday night as Belize will need to take a more offensive approach if they are to give their supporters and hope of continuing on to the next round.
If there is one criticism from the first leg of this round of qualifying, it is that on the surface it did not appear like Canada did any scouting or developing an approach specific to their opponent. For the higher ranked CONCACAF teams, it should not be any surprise that at BMO Field they would sit nine to ten men behind the ball. With this in mind, a formation that looked like a 4-3-3, and at times kept Atiba Hutchinson covering in a defensive position, was questionable. At no point did it appear as though Belize were capable of putting together a cohesive attack, and Benito Floro certainly could have gotten away with something closer to a 4-2-3-1, or at least allowing Hutchinson to become more of an attacking midfielder to bring something other than just wide play as part of Canada's offence.
Against Dominica, it was seen that Canada were capable of both creating down the wing, as well as through the middle, and this should be a priority for the second leg. With the group stage opponents being a much higher quality of players and capabilities, a one-dimensional approach of working down either wing trying to cross in balls to Cyle Larin will become a predictable way to deal with Canada.
Belize did not offer much in the first leg of this round, however, there are a few players who Canada will need to focus on. In goal, Woodrow West did well aerially cutting out crosses from Marcel De Jong and Nick Ledgerwood. Even though Canada did get a few chances from around the 18 yard box, it was the lower, more unorthodox crosses in that caused problems and getting more shots on target could result in rebounds and opportunities. While Belize do have some experience defenders, it was Trevor Lennan who stood out as the physical player who could match up with Cyle Larin. Lennan did well to mark him and Floro might want to consider that Tesho Akindele could provide a good plan B as a target when Larin is not getting clear chances.
With Belize needing to find goals, Canada will need to watch Deon McCaulay as he has been their best attacker for the last two qualifying cycles as well as CONCACAF tournaments. While Belize offered little in terms of building a cohesive attack, at home, one would expect them to have some more confidence and willingness to take on Canada's defence.
As noted off the top, Belize might not offer much in terms of a quality opponent, but the location is an opportunity to prepare for the fourth round of qualifying. The discomfort of playing in Central America cannot be overstated and with fixtures ahead against Honduras and possibly El Salvador, Canada will be dealing with many factors such as pitch condition, stifling humidity and questionable refereeing. This match will be one measure of how far Canada has come since 2012 and what Benito Floro is capable of bringing to the national program in preparation to their biggest matches on the horizon.
There is no debating that Atiba Hutchinson is the team's best player, and allowing him to push further up the field would be wise to create more opportunities as well as getting him in sync with the likes of Larin, Ricketts and Nakajima-Farran, Akindele or Russell Teibert. It was seen on Friday that Hutchinson is capable of dribbling through Belize's defence and pouncing on loose ball near goal, and he will be critical moving forward. Will Johnson and Samuel Piette as a tandem should be more than capable of holding down support for the defence and at this stage there should be no worry with Adam Straith and David Edgar on the back line. Being more adventurous and adapting through the match would be wise for Floro to create some scenarios ahead of the next round such as dealing with counters and inviting some pressure. Canada should be able to handle whatever Belize brings, but without purpose to this match and clear goals in mind over the ninety minutes, Floro could lose a big opportunity to be well prepared for the next round in November.
In the end
Canada are likely feeling quite comfortable after routinely dispatching Belize 3-0 on Friday night. The Central American side did not offer much in terms of attacking and the broad take away was trying to unlock a side with so many men behind the ball. With the next match in Belmopan, Canada should expect more aggression from Belize and a higher tempo from their midfield and forwards. There will be challenges, similar to Dominica, such as pitch conditions and refereeing, however, a well-prepared side should be able to dictate the match and see through a sound victory. The sub plot however, should be Benito Floro having a keen eye ahead to the fourth round and instilling discipline and approach that will be required for much more difficult opponents. Player selection as well will be critical, as who we see now likely will be the ones that will be charged with taking on Honduras and possibly El Salvador. There are many things to monitor over the upcoming ninety minutes other than the score, which in the end should be in Canada's favour.
Canada 2 – 0 Belize