Canada (pictured) can qualify for a third straight FIFA U-17 World Cup if it prevails over Costa Rica in a CONCACAF Under-17 Championship playoff on March 15, 2015, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Photo: Mexsport
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Canada missed out on an opportunity to qualify directly for the next FIFA U-17 World Cup on Thursday, when it dropped a 1-0 decision to Panama in the 2015 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship’s last Group B game.
A win against the previously-eliminated Canaleros would have earned Canada the Group B title, a place in the final against host Honduras and a ticket to Chile 2015. Instead, those honors were accorded to defending champion Mexico, which drew with Costa Rica, 1-1, earlier that same day.
“We showed, maybe a little bit, the pressure that was on,” said Canada head coach Sean Fleming. “Of course, we saw the Mexico-Costa Rica result. We knew that if we could win that we’d be in first place and into the final and to the World Cup.”
Damaso Santos gave Panama a ninth minute lead and the Canadians were forced to play catch-up.
“Even though we went down a goal again, I think that the response was good,” Fleming remarked. “It’s unfortunate that we had the one goal called back, but that’s football.
“I think, you know, our players have to get to used to that. I think that’s something maybe that we don’t have on a normal basis in the environments. It was good for us to have the experience tonight to be honest.”
Canada will have to put that experience to good use quickly. It faces Costa Rica – a side it beat 3-2 in group play on March 3 – on Sunday in one of two single-game playoffs, which will determine CONCACAF’s last two World Cup representatives. Jamaica and the United States will battle for the other spot, while already-qualified Honduras and Mexico will meet in the final.
“It’s at the point in the tournament as well where there’s some tired legs, some tired minds,” continued Fleming. “That’s where we’re going to have really dig deep down for Sunday to make sure that we are as best as we can mentally and physically.”
Fleming had his doubts about the likelihood of Canada having an advantage over Costa Rica thanks to that earlier win
“I don’t think there is,” the 49-year-old expressed. “If we beat them, it might be an advantage. Our sole focus has been every game of this journey is taking it one game at a time.”
With one game remaining, what can be expected from Canada?
“I just told the boys the last two times we qualified, we didn’t have a second chance,” Fleming finished. “We are very fortunate. We are still in it. We still have a second chance. We will be best prepared for Sunday and we will give a great performance.”