TORONTO - Dwayne De Rosario has been waiting for close to a year to pass Dale Mitchell on Canada’s all-time goal-scoring list. On Friday night, he did it in arguably Canada’s biggest match in close to a decade, providing Canada a 1-0 win over Panama that sent it top of CONCACAF’s Group C.
The Reds now lead their third-round qualifying on seven points, a point ahead of Panama and three points ahead of Honduras, who secured maximum points in Cuba Friday afternoon.
The win puts Canada in position to qualify for the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the first time since 1998. From the region’s six-team final round, three will automatically qualify for the World Cup in 2014.
Canada picked up where it ended against Honduras two months ago, coming close on countless chances throughout the first-half, the first coming on seven minutes when Kevin McKenna rose to meet a corner before watching his attempt bounce just wide at the back post.
As Canada and Panama will meet next Tuesday in the fourth match of CONCACAF’s third round, the visitors seemed content from start to finish to drop 10 men behind the ball and take a point back to Panama City.
Despite heading into Friday night’s match as the group leaders, the visitors failed to put an attempt at Canadian ‘keeper Lars Hirschfeld throughout the first half. Instead, it was Canada’s 4-2-3-1 setup that prevented entry into Panama’s Blas Perez and Luis Tejada, preserving Canada’s third consecutive clean sheet in the competition.
While chances were few and far between, the Reds controlled long spells of possession without the final product following McKenna’s early look.
But multiple mistakes from Panamanian ‘keeper Jaime Penedo on the half-hour mark briefly opened things up at BMO Field, kicking off a frenzy for Canada, who saw four solid chances go begging in a heart-stopping five-minute span.
In the 33rd minute, a recycled ball was played to Simeon Jackson on the right side of the box. On his second touch, the Norwich City attacker whipped in a ball that Panamanian ‘keeper Jaime Penedo failed to punch clear, instead directing the ball at Dwayne De Rosario, whose first attempt at the open net was blocked. With Penedo struggling to recover, Olivier Occean’s second-chance effort was cleared away for a corner.
On the ensuing corner, Occean directed his header from close range directly at Penedo, who continued to scramble for the next few minutes.
Two minutes later, with Penedo again off his line to claim a Canadian restart from the deep corner, Kevin McKenna pinged his header off the outside of the near post to somehow keep the match goalless.
With the close to 18,000 in attendance trying to suck the ball into the net, De Rosario capped off a furious five minutes with a free kick from 20 metres that cut a few blades of grass before Penedo did well to hold.
Controversy stirred up the pro-Canadian support minutes before half-time after De Rosario was fouled near the centre circle. Seconds after Costa Rican referee Jeffrey Solis blew his whistle, a Panamanian player went down holding his face, accusing Canada’s all-time leading scorer of a stomp that didn’t occur.
Thoroughly out-played through the first 45 minutes, the visitors pushed forward after the break, coming close on a number of half-chances early in the second half.
In the 53rd minute, Panama’s Felipe Baloy rose to head down a corner that bounced dangerously around inside Canada’s penalty area before danger was cleared. A minute later, a quick combination put Perez in behind Canada’s back four but the FC Dallas attacker’s strike missed wide.
Canada answered with efforts from De Rosario and Occean minutes apart before the hour mark.
In the 57th minute, after Atiba Hutchinson did well to recover possession in Canada’s attacking third, De Rosario’s screamer from the right side of the area was again punched away by Penedo.
Two minutes later, after receiving a headed layoff at the top of the box from De Rosario, Occean’s attempt on the full-volley went wide.
The Reds would grab the goal they deserved in the 77th minute when a fast restart caught the Panamanian defence napping. Atiba Hutchinson’s quick thinking in the corner led to De Rosario scoring his 20th goal for Canada. De Rosario smashed home from inside the goal box past a helpless Penedo.
Panama had a golden chance to equalize in the 84th minute when Roman Torres was played in behind Canada’s defence, but Torres put his open look on the half-volley wide of Hirschfeld’s goal.
Canada now travels to Panama City next Tuesday where any result on the road will see Canada in prime position to qualify in October for CONCACAF’s hexagonal.