TORONTO - Canada’s Julian de Guzman didn’t mince words when describing the magnitude of Friday night’s World Cup qualifier against Panama in Toronto.
“This game pretty much decides the rest of the group stage for us,” he said. “It’s mandatory that we get three points.”
After securing four points from its first two matches in June, Canada sits two points behind the Panamanians, who are perfect through two of six third-round CONCACAF qualifiers. Honduras and Cuba round out Canada’s four-team group, with one and no points respectively.
Needing a top-two third-round finish to advance to the region’s final qualifying for the first time since 1998, Canada hosts Panama Friday before playing in Panama four days later. Canada will wrap up third-round qualifying in October with games at home to Cuba and in Honduras.
“(We) have four games (left) and you have to look at it that way,” Canadian head coach Stephen Hart said. “(Friday’s) game at home against arguably the best team in the group is extremely important.”
Especially after missing a massive chance to take a stranglehold on the group earlier this summer.
In a goal-less finish at BMO Field in June, Canada put in a convincing performance against a Honduran side fresh off an appearance at the 2010 World Cup. Canada saw multiple headers go begging in the dying moments before Simeon Jackson squandered a sitter from metres out in second-half stoppage time.
“We know how disappointing it was to lose two points at home to Honduras and we feel like we should have come out with six points from the first two games,” de Guzman said of a result that would have provided Canada some breathing room. “Now we have a lot of work ahead of us and we know the importance of this match.”
A Canadian Soccer Association official told the Sun this week the CSA was close to selling out the lower bowl at BMO Field. With away support always a concern at Canada’s home fixtures, the association expects a pro-Canada crowd and is looking into opening the upper deck if the demand is there.
“It’s one of the biggest games in a long time for Canadian soccer,” Canadian captain Kevin McKenna said. “We know the importance of the game and as long as we keep our organization like we have in the last few games I’m confident we can get a result.”