KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – Canada’s attempt to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1984 failed at the last hurdle, as they fell 3-1 to a powerhouse Mexican side in the 2012 CONCACAF men's Qualifying Tournament semifinals.
A loud, heavily Mexican crowd at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park had a chance to cheer 20 minutes in, as Marco Fabian opened the scoring. Canada, however, equalized through former Vancouver Whitecaps FC striker Marcus Haber, giving the Canadian fans a brief glimmer of hope. But Alan Pulido quickly snuffed out that hope before Miguel Ponce scored Mexico’s third in the second half to put the game beyond doubt.
With the win, the Mexicans book their place in the London Olympic Games this summer. They will also face fellow Olympic qualifiers Honduras in the tournament final on Monday night.
Canada, actually, came close to taking a surprising lead early on. Six minutes in, Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry got his head to a ball after Mexican goalkeeper Liborio Sanchez could not punch clear on a corner kick, but the shot was cleared off the goalline by Ponce.
After that, the Mexicans pressed for much of the first half and the Canadians defended by the skin of their teeth. Until the 20th minute, when Fabian was played in by Hector Herrera's ball straight through the middle of the Canadian defence. The Chivas de Guadalajara star was one-on-one with Canadian goalkeeper Michal Misciewicz and easily dispatched his low shot past the helpless Misciewicz, who hesitated before coming off his line.
Against all odds, however, Haber pulled Canada level in the 32nd minute. Former Whitecaps FC midfielder Philippe Davies, who set up both of Canada’s goals in the 2-0 win over the United States a week ago, crossed from the right side and former Vancouver teammate Haber headed home for his first goal of the tournament.
They were not tied for long, though, as Pulido finished off a nice passing play with Fabian near the top of Canada’s 18-yard box. His quick one-time shot went low into the right corner.
Mexico continued to push on the other side of halftime, and in the 48th minute, Misciewicz had to pull off a fantastic diving stop on Javier Aquino's right-footed shot from just outside Canada's 18-yard box.
Seconds after, David Cabrera put a free kick off the crossbar, the Canadians were unable to clear the loose ball and it fell to Ponce, who smashed it into the top right corner. Misciewicz got his hands to the ball, but it was struck with venom and the Canadian keeper only helped it into the corner of the net.
Any hope of a Canadian comeback was extinguished when Henry was sent off for his second yellow card with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Whitecaps FC youngster Russell Teibert played Saturday's semifinal at left fullback for Canada's U-23 squad.
Liborio Sanchez; Darvin Chavez, Israel Jimenez, Hiram Mier, Diego Reyes; David Cabrera (Jorge Enriquez 62’), Javier Aquino (Javier Cortes 84’), Hector Herrera, Miguel Ponce; Marco Fabian, Alan Pulido (Erick Torres 89’)
Michal Misciewicz; Russell Teibert, Nana Attakora, Doneil Henry, Andres Fresenga (Matt Stinson 67’); Samuel Piette, Philippe Davies, Kyle Bekker, Evan James; Lucas Cavallini (Carl Haworth 56’), Marcus Haber