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Canada’s World Cup soccer quest hits Jamaica after breakthrough in Mexico

Canada’s World Cup soccer quest hits Jamaica after breakthrough in Mexico
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Canadian coach John Herdman promised more to come after a historic result against Mexico in World Cup men’s soccer qualifying on Thursday night.

The opportunity to take that next step wasn’t far off.

The Canadians — who tied 1-1 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, becoming the first side ever to take points off both Mexico and the United States in the final round of Cup qualifying — head back into battle Sunday at Jamaica’s National Stadium Independence Park in Kingston.

“You’ve got winners in that team,” Herdman said Saturday from Jamaica, sizing up Sunday’s opponent. “When all the players are here, they’re one of the top three teams in CONCACAF. Value-wise, they’re right up there.”

However, four matches into the final round of qualifying in the region — where three nations will advance to Qatar 2022, and a fourth will get one more shot in a playoff — Jamaica sits last among the eight contenders with a tie and three losses, scoring just two goals while conceding six.

Jamaica didn’t look much better, though, in a 2-0 loss to the United States on Thursday that could have been worse had a couple of questionable non-calls in the first half produced red cards instead. Minus West Ham United striker Michail Antonio, third in goals in the English Premier League, the Jamaicans managed just one shot on net.

But a desperate team can be dangerous, and Jamaica is the most desperate in the region at this stage.

“My concern with Jamaica is that they’re a wounded animal at the moment,” Herdman said. “At some point this team’s going to take three points and they’re going to take someone’s head clean. I’m just hoping this isn’t going to be Canada (on Sunday) in their home stadium.”

Canada sits alone in third place behind the U.S. and Mexico, one point ahead of Panama and El Salvador. Three road points on Sunday would help the Canadians pull away from the pack and could make the difference when qualifying wraps up in March. Playing to win on the road can be risky, but parking the bus in hopes of a draw in this situation would be an opportunity lost.

Playing for your country means playing for pride, said Canadian centre back Doneil Henry, and that works both ways. In the end, he expects Canada’s talent and commitment will prevail.

“We’ve been really level-headed,” he said, “and we know that no team is going to give us points.”    
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