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Canada leapfrogs Panama in World Cup qualifying after Alphonso Davies takes charge

Canada leapfrogs Panama in World Cup qualifying after Alphonso Davies takes charge
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The star? Who else.

Canada could very well be present at Qatar 2022, and every World Cup in the foreseeable future, as long as the kid who calls Edmonton home is in the lineup.

Wednesday night’s match, the last of this international window but Canada’s first at home this month, was, by all accounts, a must-win. The team had put in good performances in the final round of qualifying, but had come away with too many ties — four in five matches — for its liking.

It was imperative the Canadians change one point into three during a visit from the Panamanian team that sat one point ahead of them in the standings coming in, a loose grip on the third and final automatic qualification berth for Qatar 2022 that could have turned into a much firmer hold if they walked away with a road victory.

A defensive lapse less than five minutes into the game gave the Canadians an even bigger mountain to climb than they had initially anticipated. A Panamanian counter attack down the right wing that saw the visitors give and go their way around midfielder Stephen Eustáquio and defender Kamal Miller, among others, ended in a tap-in goal for Rolando Blackburn and an early lead for the opposition.

It was as if the goal stoked a fire in Davies, who instantly took the team on his back. It was needed on a night when things easily could have become too emotional, as Canada battled an opponent engaging in tactics all too typical of this region — long injury stoppages, fighting, throwing balls away — and a referee who missed at least one penalty call against Panama, if not more.

Davies lit a fire under his teammates when needed. Minutes after Panama scored, Davies, who began pulling strings all over the field, could be seen venting to fellow striker Jonathan David, who chose passing over shooting after Davies played him into the box alone. The next time Davies played David in? David forced a save from Panamanian goalkeeper Luis Mejia and earned the Canadians a corner.

Corner kicks were Canada’s bread and butter in the first half, and Davies was the one to deliver. It was his kick that landed on Tajon Buchanan’s head in the 29th minute, before deflecting off Panama’s Michael Murillo for an own goal to level the score.

Before Davies would go on to score Canada’s second, he showed that he’s more than just a playmaker and a goal scorer. He committed his body time and again, like when he went head to head with Mejia for a 50-50 ball. And he showed his commitment to his teammates when, nearing halftime, he was one of the first Canadian players to step in when words between a Panamanian player taking a corner kick and some of Canada’s substitutes turned into a bench-clearing scuffle between both teams.

Still, the pièce de résistance came in the 66th minute. Davies was dozens of yards behind Harold Cummings when he began what would be a game-changing sprint in his own half. The Panamanian defender tried to see a rolling ball out of bounds, but Davies’ snuck in between Cummings and the sideline, using some deft footwork to keep the ball in play. He drove straight into the Panamanian box, cutting inside of defender Fidel Escobar and slashing a shot just inside the near post.

Buchanan and David added a goal each before the night was done, but Wednesday was all about Davies. The victory he commandeered moved Canada back into third place in the standings, where the team will hope to remain until this final round of qualification wraps up next March.

It was a world-class effort by a world-class player, securing points that might just land this country at the World Cup next year.

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