The Canadian Press
Wounded by controversy and playing only for pride, Canada's men's national team fought frontrunning Mexico to a spirited 2-2 draw in FIFA World Cup qualifying in Edmonton, Alberta, on Wednesday evening.
Ali Gerba and Tomasz Radzinski scored for Canada, while Matias Vuoso and Carlos Salcido replied for Mexico on a chilly night at Commonwealth Stadium.
"The guys came out today to show we have pride in the Canadian jersey," said Gerba. "It's just unfortunate we couldn't make it to the next round of qualifying."
Canada (0-3-2) was mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after losing to Honduras on the weekend.
Wednesday's draw, however, clouds the future for the Mexicans, who are fighting with Jamaica and Honduras to be one of the two teams in the Group Two bracket of the CONCACAF region to advance to next year's final round of qualifying.
Mexico dominated play early - recording its first shot on net 17 seconds into the game.
But it was Canada that scored first in the 13th minute when Radzinski chested a pass up the middle to Gerba. The 26-year-old from Montreal half-volleyed the ball 30 yards over the outstretched hands of Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez and into the net before 14,105 fans in attendance.
Fortunes changed for Canada in the 35th minute when defender Marcel de Jong and Mexican midfielder Gerardo Torrado leapt up for the ball just outside the Canadian box. Torrado's elbow seemed to catch de Jong in the face and the defender had to be hauled off on a stretcher.
Canada, however, was called for the foul and Mexico capitalized on the free kick. Midfielder Andres Guardado provided a diversion by pretending to kick the ball but running over it instead, and leaving it free for defender Salcido to rocket the ball low off the leg of a Canadian defender in the wall and past the right hand of diving Canadian goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld.
"I don't know if it was a free kick for us or for Canada," said Mexico head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson of the de Jong-Torrado collision. "To be honest, I thought it was against us. But I will not protest."
In the second half, Canada regained the lead in the 50th minute when Gerba crossed the ball over to an unmarked Radzinski in the Mexico box.
Sanchez moved to intercept the ball, but misplayed it. Instead, he tapped it right onto the foot of Radzinski, who simply redirected the ball into the open goal, as the fans roared. Radzinski leapt for joy and pulled off his jersey.
"It's been a long time since my last goal for Canada that I was absolutely overwhelmed," said a smiling Radzinski after the match.
"I didn't really think about the dance. It just came out naturally."
Mexico tied it again at the 63rd minute when midfielder Giovanni dos Santos crossed the ball over to forward Vuoso, who leapt between Canadian defenders Richard Hastings and Mike Klukowski in the six-yard box to head the ball over Hirschfeld for 2-2.
There were strong scoring chances on both sides, with Mexico holding the edge in play. They outshot the Canadians 13-10.
The fans seemed evenly split among Canadian supporters and those clad in the red, white and green of Mexico. Mexican flags outnumbered Canadian ones about five-to-one.
Canada, which wraps up its qualifying campaign on November 19 in Jamaica, has not been to the World Cup since 1986.
There were high expectations heading into this second round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
But after a disappointing 1-1 draw at home versus Jamaica in August, Canada slid to three consecutive defeats.
Then came the dissension.
In the last week, players Jim Brennan and Dwayne De Rosario sniped publicly at head coach Dale Mitchell and the governing body, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA).
Brennan has said he will not play for Mitchell and De Rosario was quoted wondering why Mitchell would get the senior team job after leading Canada's U-20 squad to a winless performance at last year's world championship.
Brennan is off the team and De Rosario was called in for Wednesday's match after being suspended for Saturday's defeat in Honduras.
After the game, Mitchell said that given the controversy, "The guys showed they're still together, there's still quality within the group."
The draw keeps the heat on Eriksson and Mexico, a regional powerhouse that suffered a shocking 1-0 defeat away to Jamaica on Saturday.
Mexico (3-1-1) still leads the group with 10 points, followed by Honduras (3-2-0) with nine and Jamaica (2-1-1) with seven. Wednesday's other game in the group saw Jamaica beat Honduras 1-0.
A win by Honduras over Mexico on November 19, coupled with a Jamaican victory over Canada, would mean Mexico would have to beat Jamaica on total goal differential to move on.
"We've made life a little bit difficult for ourselves, but we are first in the group," said Eriksson. "So it depends on us if we want to go through to the next round of qualification."
Canada's two substitutions included a late stoppage-time appearance by Vancouver Whitecaps striker Charles Gbeke and former 'Caps defender Chris Pozniak.
1.Lars Hirschfeld; 3.Mike Klukowski, 4.Andrew Hainault, 7.Paul Stalteri, 11.Richard Hastings (16.Charles Gbeke 89'); 8.Patrice Bernier, 12.Marcel de Jong (14.Chris Pozniak 39'), 13.Kevin Harmse, 15.Adrian Serioux; 9.Tomasz Radzinski, 10.Ali Gerba
Subs not used: 18.Josh Wagenaar, 2.Dejan Jakovic, 5.Kevin McKenna, 6.Nik Ledgerwood, 17.Iain Hume
1.Oswaldo Sanchez; 2.Jose Magallon, 3.Carlos Salcido, 4.Aaron Galindo, 5.Ricardo Osorio; 6.Gerardo Torrado, 7.Luis Perez (12.Matias Vuoso 55'), 15.Fernando Arce (10.Carlos Ochoa 82'), 18.Andres Guardado; 11.Carlos Vela (9.Omar Bravo 67'), 17.Giovanni dos Santos
Subs not used: 13.Guillermo Ochoa, 8.Francisco Torres, 14.Fausto Pinto, 16.Hector Moreno