PUEBLA, Mexico - After a disappointing start to their 2013 FIFA under-20 World Cup qualifying campaign, the Canadian team insists they’ve learned their lessons.
A tie is enough against Nicaragua on Friday for Canada to advance to the quarter-finals at the 2013 CONCACAF U20 Championship — and keep their World Cup qualification hopes alive.
In order to achieve the desired result, however, Canada will look to avoid the same kind of errors that cost them in their opening game.
Two defensive miscues on Monday in the second half saw Canada fall two goals behind Cuba before eventually losing 2-1.
The team trained at the ground of Noria Football Club, a local Puebla youth team Thursday afternoon and head coach Nick Dasovic ran a session that dealt extensively with tactical situations on both sides of the ball.
“You can sense a little bit of nerves in the boys because it’s a huge game for them,” Dasovic said after the training session. "Since we got together in December 2011 it's arguably the biggest game they've played. So there's going to be a bit of nerves."
Canada trained in hot — albeit breezy — conditions on Monday, but by the time they take the field Friday night the temperature is expected to drop into the single digits Celsius in Puebla.
Both Nicaragua and Canada are fighting for second place in Group B. After Canada lost to Cuba, Nicaragua then lost 3-0 to the Cubans on Wednesday so at least a draw would be enough to put Canada through to the quarter-final next week.
The only way Nicaragua advances is if they beat Canada. Cuba has already advanced as group winner.
“It was just individual errors, but Cuba had a good game. They’re a strong team,” Dasovic said.
While Cuba had a number of big, strong players, Canada will be wary of the speed that Nicaragua possesses.
Nicaragua qualified by finishing second in their group in Central American qualifying. They were behind Costa Rica but advanced by beating group hosts Honduras.
“They’re not as aggressive and strong. They’re not big bodies, but they are quick,” said Dasovic. “They like to get it down and play it long and get the quick guys in behind so we have to be ready for anything over the top.”
It’s in the quarter-final that a team’s World Cup qualification fate is decided. The top four teams at this tournament advance to the FIFA U20 World Cup tournament being held in Turkey this summer.
Canada hasn’t qualified for the World Cup at this age group since hosting the 2007 edition of the event when they lost all three games and didn’t score a goal.
If Canada manages a favourable result on Friday, they’ll come up against either the United States or Costa Rica, which play for first place in Group A immediately before Canada’s game Friday.
But getting to that knockout round is Canada’s priority at the moment.
“I just think that we have to be mentally prepared with what they have to come with,” said team captain and Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry. “I think that the guys as a team we beat ourselves, and I know tomorrow when we come out we’re going to be ready for the game.”
The 19-year-old Henry had a game he probably would like to forget against Cuba. His lunge at Cuban striker Maykel Reyes in the 69th minute allowed the Cuban striker the opening he needed to score Cuba’s first goal of the game.
Henry, who got his first caps for Canada at the senior level last month in friendlies against Denmark and the United States, insists the best is still to come.
“I thought that I put a lot of pressure and stress on my head and I was thinking about too many things,” said Henry who is playing in his second under-20 qualifying tournament for Canada. “I just want to be myself and play my game.”
Dasovic isn’t the type of coach that insists on advancing to the knockout round on the back of a win. So long as it’s an encouraging performance — either a draw or a win will do nicely.
“The result is the bottom line. If it gets us to the quarter-finals and we can pick up good moments and take ourselves into that quarter-final that’s the important thing."