In football, experience says so. Japan is about to play its seventh consecutive Men’s World Cup. Canada is about to play its first in 36 years. Good teams, good players, have a nose for insecurity, for uncertainty, for weakness.
Japan needed nine minutes to find it in Canada.
The Canadians used the rest of the game to show that they also have strong points.
Thursday’s 2-1 victory for Canada, a final tune-up for both teams before they embark on their World Cup campaigns in Qatar, didn’t exactly take place in a cauldron. There were maybe a thousand fans at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. The afternoon air was warm and still rather than electric.
Even in the absence of nerves or pressure, the countless little chasms that exist between the best players in Canada and the best in the world began to widen.
CLOCK | Lucas Cavallini scores winner in penalty kick:
Milan Borjan, the goalkeeper who guided Canada through their epic qualifying run with his stellar saves and charismatic leadership, has one fundamental flaw. He’s not good with his feet.
Before the Canadiens really had a chance to find their rhythm, he punted a ball and didn’t punt it halfway. Head coach John Herdman, walking down the sideline, stopped his perpetual motion to tell Borjan to calm down.
The Japanese had already assembled their precision counter. They cut down the middle of the field, and Yuki Soma neatly handled a long pass and scored.
This is how the game works at this level. It is designed to expose everything about you.
On this night, the size of Canadian hearts was also revealed. After a quick regroup, they responded to their early hesitation on 21 minutes. Steven Vitoria headed home a corner that, uncharacteristically, was not cleared by the Japanese.
GOAL! Steven Vitória equalizes from the corner! 🍁
We all make mistakes.
And in the last moments of the second part, in full stoppage time, the Japanese did one more. A speedy Richie Laryea was brought down in the box, and the Canadians were awarded a last-minute penalty that would decide the game.
Lucas Cavallini fought to take it away. He wasn’t the obvious choice. Jonathan David, who has been scoring pretty much at will for him in Ligue 1, was standing next to him. Cavallini, El Tanque for his teammates, still ended up with the ball. Herdman looked at the rest of his team, who had now joined him on the touchline.
“If he tastes a Panenka, I’ll kill him,” he said.
CLOCK | Soccer North: Can Canada get out of the group stage?
Cavallini did, in fact, take a Panenka, hitting a light, spinning chip up the middle. The Japanese goalkeeper fell just long enough for Cavallini’s ill-advised caper, diving to the left of him before vainly stepping back to his right, the ball spun out of his glove and into the net.
“I don’t know,” Herdman said afterwards, putting her hands to her face, able to laugh at her premonition just because the ball went in. “Just put her in the corner. I don’t know why we have to do those things. All I can say is that it’s Canada’s new arrogance, huh?
It was an unlikely happy ending to a chaotic and revealing game, and the result shouldn’t mask the faults of this team. There is a difference between good and excellent, between upstart and veteran. It is real, and it exists.
But sometimes in life, and especially for this team, a perfect combination of courage and luck momentarily bridges the gap.
Canada’s magical streak is unlikely to continue beyond next week. Herdmann knows it. He understands better than most that you can ignore reality for a limited time. A win is a win, and he’ll take Thursday’s win, along with whatever other moment under the sun his team is about to enjoy.
“Then you sober up,” he said. And it is clear. The second best team in the world awaits us.
He was talking about Belgium, the first of Canada’s great opponents. Then comes Croatia, two teams that are supposed to beat Canada. They are better in every way. They will almost certainly finish what Japan couldn’t and send Canada home.
If they do, that’s fine. That is the natural and proper order of things. The only tragedy will be if the Canadians don’t seize the one chance they know they’ll be given in Qatar: to stand alongside the best players on Earth for the first time in 36 years, and decide that the next time they meet, they’ll trust the team less. good fortune and more in themselves.
Soccer North Episode 4 lands Friday at CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube channel.
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