Bahrain 2-2 CanMNT — International Friendly — Canadian Premier League
Final score: Bahrain 2-2 Canada
Scorers: Al-Humaidan 13′, Helal 67′ (pen.); Koné 6′, Haram 81′ (JO)
Match in a minute or less
Canada’s men’s national team took on Bahrain in a friendly pre-World Cup tune-up on Friday, playing out a 2-2 draw. Canada kicked off quickly, as Ismaël Koné knocked down a long ball from Kamal Miller and sent it home, entering on goal alone and finishing well to make it 1-0 barely six minutes. Less than 10 minutes later, however, Bahrain equalized by finding space in the Canadian defense and Mahdi Al-Humaidan struck from inside the box.
The hosts edged Canada in the second half, as a foul from Alistair Johnston on the edge of the box drew a penalty for Bahrain, and Abdulla Yusuf Helal converted to make it 2-1. In the end, however, the Canadians managed to equalise, as Koné found the ball on the right flank and sent a low cross that deflected past Lucas Cavallini and a Bahrain defender before finding the net to make it 2- 2 – a result that would last until full time.
Apparent rust in off-season Canadian players who develop their physical form in game
The main reason Canada played this friendly match was to help Major League Soccer players get back into shape after spending the last few weeks, if not months, without playing.
For John Herdman, the biggest triumph of this game will be to see so many players who will be key contributors in Qatar – Jonathan Osorio perhaps more than anyone else – play solid minutes. Of the 16 players who have seen the pitch for Canada, only nine have played a game in the past month. This was of course evident in Canada’s performance on Friday; their possession play was sloppy at times and the movement with the ball was not as synchronized as Herdman would have liked.
Canada’s defense was a little reckless at times, with a handful of missed or poorly timed tackles that either gave Bahrain a chance to attack or gave a foul in a dangerous area. Indeed, that’s how Bahrain’s two goals came – the first, a few defensive errors in transition letting the opposition enter the box too easily, and the second was a rushing tackle from Johnston who gave up on a penalty.
This was all, no doubt, to be expected, and in all fairness, some of the poor possessions and misplaced passes can also be attributed to the uneven and slow pitch surface in Bahrain. However, it is unlikely that Canada could learn much from this performance, knowing that the value of this game was above all to get the players on the field in game situation.
The main concern, in fact, will not be that the performance was below average; rather, two potential injuries are perhaps the story du jour. Doneil Henry reportedly suffered an injury of some kind during the warm-up and had to be replaced in the starting XI by Joel Waterman, while Kamal Miller was stopped in the second half and couldn’t finish the game. Henry and Miller will both make (depending on injury severity, of course) no doubt in the 26-man World Cup squad, and Miller can be expected to start every game for Canada – he played 12 out of 14 games in the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, starting in nine of them.
It’s still unclear what exactly troubled Henry or Miller, but their status will be the only major concern for Herdman after that game in Bahrain.
Canada show promise with long changes of play and direct balls
Bahrain is not necessarily on the level of opposition that Canada will face at the World Cup, but this game gave The Reds an opportunity to work with the ball and try to hone in on some combinations they might attempt in a higher stakes game. Playing against a Bahrain team that was compact and fairly well organized in defence, Canada identified early on that there would be space behind their high defensive line.
So Canada seemed to become quite deliberate in the way they build from the back, with the back three stretching wide and looking for opportunities to send long play-changing passes down the field to attacking players or wingers. Raheem Edwards in particular, coming out on the left flank, received the ball a lot in such positions, as did Richie Laryea on the right.
Again, individual rust may have prevented Canada from turning those brilliant transitional moments into more dangerous attacking opportunities on a consistent basis, but they did well to spot an area to exploit and attack it. Canada are unlikely to have as much ball against Belgium or Croatia as they did in this game (62% possession), but when they do win it they will need to be decisive and fast.
Morocco can actually leave a similar space behind their wingers and defenders, and while Stephen Eustáquio is more likely to try to find Alphonso Davies or Tajon Buchanan with these lengthy changes, the tactical mindset should improve. extend to all players on the team.
Three of Canada’s five backs – Laryea, Miller and Johnston – are likely to play heavy minutes in Qatar, so getting them back into the rhythm of how Canada want to play at the back is also crucial, all the more so. that it is likely that Miller and Johnston is the one to start these moves, with Steven Vitória keeping the strong in the middle.
Individual performances stand out more than full team performances
Even if at the team level, it was not a performance to complain about, several individuals stood out in a very encouraging way for Canada.
More importantly, Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio started and played all 90 minutes of a tough game in the heat, despite having played just 18 minutes since late August. Osorio had actually not appeared for the national side since World Cup qualifying ended in March, so getting him back in the squad was perhaps the biggest triumph for Herdman and co. Friday.
Osorio will no doubt be a key player for Canada in Qatar, whether starting or coming off the bench; there isn’t really another player with his profile in the player pool, who can provide a creative spark in the middle. On Friday, his quality was evident, and while he may be the team’s least match-fit player, he was actually one of Canada’s sharpest, eager to dribble past defenders and choose dangerous passes in the area.
Ismaël Koné, who has also been excellent for Canada, was lined up alongside Osorio in attacking midfield. He scored the first goal with a remarkable first touch and finish, and he helped create the second with his low cross into the penalty area. Koné appeared in a variety of spaces around the left side, especially the half-space where he was able to combine very well with Raheem Edwards.
Koné is, now, essentially a lock to be on the plane to Qatar next week, but just how pronounced his role could be at the World Cup was unclear. After that great performance, as well as some very good performances in the last window against Qatar and Uruguay, Koné seems to have shown Herdman that he can be trusted to contribute when Canada need a late-stage spark. match. The 20-year-old may still not have the experience to start a World Cup match, but it’s becoming more and more likely he’ll see the pitch at some point.
Finally, recognition goes to Joel Waterman and Lukas MacNaughton, who both made their national team debuts on Friday. Waterman started the game as a last-minute amendment to the roster when Doneil Henry was injured in warm-up, and MacNaughton came on as a second-half substitute when Kamal Miller was unable to continue. The inclusion of these two players was particularly significant, with both players being products of the Canadian Premier League; Waterman’s first professional minutes came with Cavalry FC in 2019 after picking him from Trinity Western University in the CPL-U SPORTS draft, while MacNaughton played his first three years as a professional at Pacific FC after playing U SPORTS soccer for the University of Toronto.
CanPL.ca Player of the match
Ismael Koné, Canada
The CF Montreal midfielder scored Canada’s first goal and assisted the second, playing in a slightly forward attacking role. He was brilliant and confident on the ball throughout the 90 minutes, proving to Herdman and co. that he belongs to the World Cup team.
Canada will now travel to Dubai, where they will face Japan in a final friendly before the World Cup on Thursday, November 17 (8:40 a.m. ET/5:40 a.m. PT). After that, it will be Qatar to kick off the World Cup itself.
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