Early goals by Cyle Larin and Jonathan David helped Canada to a comfortable 2-0 victory over World Cup host Qatar in an international men’s soccer friendly Friday.
Canada controlled large stretches of the game and built their 2-0 lead after just 13 minutes at a largely empty Generali Arena, home to Austria Vienna. Qatar, at No. 48 five places below Canada in the world rankings, failed to impress on the day.
The Canadians, who were facing Qatar for the first time, will undergo a stiffer test Tuesday when they take on No. 13 Uruguay in Bratislava, Slovakia.
There was a moment of concern in the second half with Alphonso Davies needing treatment after tangling with Ismail Mohammad in the 57th minute. The Bayern Munich star was able to walk off, albeit gingerly, as he gave way to a substitute.
“I think he’s all right. He was sitting on the bench smiling. So I think he’s fine,” Canada coach John Herdman said after the match.
Canada wasted little time with Larin scoring in the fourth minute. The Club Brugge striker rose high to head home a Sam Adekugbe cross, delivered from just outside the Qatar penalty box, for his Canadian men’s record 25th goal in 53 appearances.
David doubled the lead in the 13th minute after diving Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb punched a Miller cross away, but only to a pair of waiting Canadians. Davies went down, losing his footing, trying to get to the ball but David was there to knock it home for his 22nd goal in 33 games in Canada colours.
David, who is signed to Adidas, covered the Nike logo on the Canada shirt with his right hand as he celebrated the goal. There has been recent social media chatter about Canada, unlike other teams, not unveiling a new jersey for the World Cup.
Canada came close to scoring third goal off a free kick in the 88th minute but Ike Ugbo’s header was saved by the Qatar ‘keeper and Kamal Miller’s attempt off the rebound hit the crossbar.
David (Junior) Hoilett, earning his 48th cap, captained Canada in the absence of the injured Atiba Hutchinson.
Friday’s game marked the Canadian men’s first against an Asian opponent since November 2016 when they lost 2-0 to South Korea. Herdman expected a well-drilled opponent with the Qatari players largely drawn from domestic teams, with Al Sadd and Al-Duhail leading the way.
The World Cup host will play out of Group A at the World Cup along with the eighth-ranked Netherlands, No. 18 Senegal (the reigning Africa Cup of Nations champion) and No. 44 Ecuador.
The Canadians, who open World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium in Group F, used the flanks to attack the condensed Qatar defence.
After going down early, Qatar had a chance in the 10th minute after a Canadian giveaway in its own end. But Mohammed Waad’s shot went straight at Milan Borjan.
Abdelaziz Hatim came close in the 36th minute when his shot from the edge of the penalty box curled just wide of the post, prompting Borjan to yell at his defenders to step up.
Canada had 62 per cent possession in the first half. Both sides made changes at the break with Canada sending on Richie Laryea to replace Larin. Charles-Andreas Bryn, Ismael Kone and Ugbo followed off the Canadian bench in a triple change on the hour mark.
Qatar showed more purpose in the second half but could not breach the Canada defence, offering little in attack.
Laryea came close in the 63rd minute but his shot from in-close was blocked, as was Ugbo’s shot off the rebound. Liam Millar, returning to the national team after being sidelined with a broken arm, entered in the 67th minute.
Mark-Anthony Kaye come on in the 74th as Herdman, with an eye to the heavy club load some of his players have experienced, used his bench liberally.
For the Canadians, the European camp is a first get-together since an ill-fated gathering in June in Vancouver when players refused to play a friendly against Panama due to a contract dispute. The team put the impasse behind it to play Curacao and Honduras in CONCACAF Nations League matches June 9 and 13. But contract talks continue.
Canada’s final World Cup warm-up is Nov. 17 against No. 24 Japan in Dubai.
Herdman has other injury concerns with Club Brugge winger Tajon Buchanan likely only to make the bench for the Uruguay game if healthy. Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry, who came down with a hamstring problem on the eve of camp, is with the team but not expected to see action. TFC teammate Jonathan Osorio remained at home to deal with a “neurological dysfunction” resulting from an elbow in the head in a mid-July MLS game.
Despite the injuries, Herdman fielded a strong lineup with Miller, Steven Vitoria and Alistair Johnston in front of Borjan with Adekugbe and Hoilett at wingback and Samuel Piette and Stephen Eustaquio in midfield with Davies, David and Larin leading the attack.
Piette was influential in midfield, often joining Eustaquio in snuffing out Qatar attacks.
The Canadian starting 11 went into the match with a combined 428 caps, led by Borjan (65) and Piette (62).
The uncapped Joel Waterman (CF Montreal) and Luca Koleosho (Spain’s Espanyol) started on the bench. The 18-year-old Koleosho has yet to pledge his international allegiance to Canada. Born to a Nigerian father and Italian-Canadian mother (born in Montreal), he has options.
Qatar is coached by Felix Sanchez, a 46-year-old Spaniard who was a Barcelona youth coach before moving to Qatar in 2006 to join the Aspire sports academy. He transitioned to coaching Qatar youth teams, taking over the senior squad in 2017.
Qatar, which has never been ranked higher than No. 42, missed out on World Cup qualification in 2018, finishing bottom of its six-team third-round qualifying group at 2-7-1.
But Sanchez led Qatar to victory at the 2019 Asian Cup, winning seven straight games while outscoring the opposition 19-1. The Qataris defeated Iraq, South Korea and the host United Arab Emirates in the knockout rounds before beating Japan 3-1 in the final.