Canada reach Olympic qualifying semis


CSA & Whitecaps FC

Canada's U-23 men's side are in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament after a stunning 5-0 victory over Guatemala U-23's on Sunday.

In a remarkable final day of results at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, Canada needed a win in their final Group B game to have any chance of reaching Thursday's semifinals in Nashville, Tennessee. After claiming an admirable 1-1 draw with Mexico in their first game, Canada's hopes looked bleak after a surprise 2-1 defeat to Haiti on Friday.

Sunday's task looked even more daunting after Guatemala had looked most impressive in wins over Haiti and Mexico, but Dasovic's side put together a five-goal performance to finish second in the group, with a plus-four goal difference. Mexico's 5-1 win over nine-man Haiti in Sunday's second game meant both those sides would miss out on reaching the next round. "Not in my wildest imagination did I think we would win that big," Canada U-23 men's team head coach Nick Dasovic told CanadaSoccer.com. "The boys really over-exceeded expectations. The players did fantastic."

With Guatamala already booking a place in the semifinals, the onus was on Canada to claim the required three points. Two goals each from Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts sent the Canadians on their way, with substitute Kyle Hall scoring a crucial fifth goal late in the match. The result was the first time that a Canadian men's team scored five goals in an international match since Canada's U-17 side beat Haiti 5-0 in the 2005 CONCACAF U-17 Tournament.

Much of the first half saw few chances from both sides, but moments before halftime, Canada scored their eventual winner from a Johnson free kick. It was the second goal of the tournament for the midfielder, who returned to the line-up after serving a one-game ban against Haiti on Friday.

Johnson then doubled Canada's advantage shortly after the restart when he converted Tyler Hemming's through ball past Guatemala goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez for 2-0. Both Johnson and Andrzej Ornoch had further chances minutes later, as Canada were in rampant form. They made it 3-0 on 57 minutes when Ricketts scored on the rebound after captain Andre Hainault struck the post with a header from a corner.

Canadian goalkeeper Joshua Wagenaar then needed to make two important saves to keep his clean sheet, while Jerez denied Johnson the chance of a hat-trick with a save of his own. The Canadians ended any hopes of a Guatemalan comeback when Ricketts scored his second goal on the counter-attack with 10 minutes remaining. The decisive fifth goal then came in injury time, as an unmarked Hall placed a first-time finish past Jerez for a 5-0 result. Hall's goal proved vital to Dasovic's squad, as Mexico were not able to match Canada's goal difference with their win over Haiti, having missed out by a single goal. "I think I died eight times," Dasovic said of watching the Mexico-Haiti game. "It was like something out of a movie. We're through, though, we're going to Tennessee."

Canada will now meet North American rivals USA in one of two semifinals at LP Field in Nashville on Thursday, while Group B winners Guatemala face an all-Central American clash with Honduras in the other semi in Tennessee. The winners of both those games will not only reach next Sunday's tournament final, but also book their place in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing, China, later this year.

Canada U-23 men (BC players in bold)

18-Joshua Wagenaar; 2-Graham Ramalho, 4-Dejan Jakovic, 5-Andrew Hainault, 6-Nikolas Ledgerwood; 10-Will Johnson (9-Andrea Lombardo 87'), 11-Tosaint Ricketts, 14-Tyler Hemming, 15-Tyler Rosenlund, 16-Keegan Ayre (13-Kyle Hall 81'); 7-Andrzej Ornoch (17-Marcus Haber 90')

Guatemala U-23

1-Ricardo Jerez; 5-Erwin Morales, 6-Pablo Solorzano, 8-Wilfred Velasquez, 9-Jairo Arreola; 10-Jose Manuel Contreras (13-Marco Papa 73'), 11-Marvin Avila (7-Jean Marquez 47'), 14-Rafael Morales, 16-Jaime Vides; 18-Abner Trigueros, 19-Carlos Villa (64: 15-Jonny Brown 64')