Captain Atiba Hutchinson scored a pinball-like goal and Jonathan David added an insurance score in stoppage time to help Canada defeat El Salvador 2-0 Wednesday in San Salvador — and move yet closer to Qatar 2022 with a sixth straight World Cup qualifying win.
A prickly El Salvador side made life difficult for the Canadian men with a choppy, physical game filled with fouls on a warm, humid night at Estadio Cuscatlan before some 10,000 fans.
The breakthrough cane in the 66th minute when substitute Cyle Larin beat a defender and sent a cross that a diving Hutchinson headed at goal from close-range.
The ball hit the foot of the post and came back off first defender Eriq Zavaleta and then Hutchinson’s body past a stranded goalkeeper Kevin Carabantes.
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The Salvadorans did not put a shot on goal until stoppage time with Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan reaching high to palm away a long-distance ball that somehow found the target.
David, on a solo rush in transition, then chipped the Salvadoran goalkeeper to make to 2-0 in the 93rd minute.
The result means Canada emerges with a maximum nine points in the FIFA window following 2-0 victories over Honduras, in San Pedro Sula, and the U.S., in Hamilton.
The Canadians came into the contest knowing that a win combined with other results could see them qualify for Qatar. That would require Panama lose to Mexico, the U.S. lose to Honduras and Costa Rica lose or draw against Jamaica.
But the 11th-ranked Americans torpedoed that scenario earlier in the evening with a 3-0 win over No. 76 Honduras in frigid conditions in St. Paul, Minn.
Canada wraps up qualifying play at Costa Rica on March 23, at home to Jamaica on March 26 and at Panama on March 29.
Canada (7-0-4, 25 points) tops the eight-team standings in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying ahead of the U.S. (6-2-3, 21 points) and Mexico (5-2-3, 18 points). Panama (5-3-2, 17 points) stands fourth, with Costa Rica (4-3-4, 16 points) fifth.
Come the end of March, the top three countries will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean in Qatar. The fourth-place finisher will face an Oceania team in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
Wednesday results essentially means Canada can finish no lower than fourth.
The Canadian men are now 13-0-4 through three rounds of qualifying, outscoring their competition 50-6.
There was some doubt the game might go on with the El Salvador players releasing an open letter during the day saying they would not play over a bonus dispute with the Salvadoran football Federation. But they recanted soon after.
While El Salvador (2-6-3, nine points) came into the game sixth in the standings, it had shown it was no pushover at home, having tied the U.S., Honduras, Jamaica and Panama with the lone loss to visiting Mexico.
John Herdman made six changes to his starting lineup with Hutchinson, Stephen Eustaquio, Liam Millar, Junior Hoilett, Doneil Henry and Scott Kennedy slotting in. Defender Steven Vitoria was suspended.
Eustaquio, who just signed on loan at FC Porto, missed the first two games in the wake of Portuguese reports that he had tested positive for COVID.
Carabantes had to be sharp in the 19th minute when Jonathan Osorio found Sam Adekugbe in the penalty box. He cut the ball back to David whose shot was stopped by the sprawling El Salvador ‘keeper.
David was scythed to the ground a minute later by Narciso Orellana. Eustaquio forced a save from Carabantes with a dipping long-range shot from the ensuing free kick. Carabantes pushed a Hoilett free kick wide in the 26th minute.
Soon after, a drink from the crowd landed near Millar as he prepared to take a corner for Canada. The next time, police with riot shields held them up behind Millar as he prepared to take the corner.
While Canada had more of the ball in the first half, the home side began to make more inroads into the Canadian end as the half wore on, albeit without really threatening.
Herdman sent on Larin, Tajon Buchanan and Alistair Johnston in the 57th minute. And it paid dividends, with Larin posing problems for the Salvadorans.
Canada came into the game with a 9-5-4 all-time record against El Salvador and won 3-0 when they met last September in World Cup qualifying play at Toronto’s BMO Field. It was 2-2-2 in games in El Salvador before Wednesday, last winning there in December 1996.
El Salvador was coming off a 2-0 win in Honduras. It lost 1-0 to the U.S. in Columbus to open the international window.
Canada remains without Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, who has been sidelined by myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after testing positive for COVID-19. The 21-year-old from Edmonton has shown his support for the team by enthusiastically livestreaming on Twitch as he watches Canada’s games.
THE CANADIAN PRESS
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