Canada must go through a familiar foe to earn a spot in this summer’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Caleb Clarke led the way with two goals as Canada advanced to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF under-20 championship with a 5-1 win over Nicaragua on Friday.
Canada must now defeat the United States on Tuesday to return to the World Cup in Turkey for the first time since 2007. The Americans beat Costa Rica 1-0 earlier in the night to win Group A and assure a match with the Canadians, who finished runner-up in Group B behind Cuba.
“We were quite comfortable at 3-0 and obviously with the penalty at halftime [Nicaragua] made it 3-1, but with a man down it was always a difficult task for them,” said head coach Nick Dasovic. “We’ve got a massive game against the United States and we have a few days to prepare for it.”
Samuel Piette opened the scoring in the sixth minute before Clarke doubled the lead in the 24th minute and added his second in the 54th minute.
Mauro Eustaquio scored from the penalty spot in the 38th minute to put Canada up by three goals before Eulises Pavon scored Nicaragua’s lone goal on a penalty in first half stoppage time.
Ben McKendry scored Canada’s fifth goal in the 64th minute.
Piette got Canada started with a sensational goal from 25 yards away. Defender John Dollery — who plays with Crawley Town in England’s League One — played a free kick along the ground from the right side toward Piette. He then hammered a right-footed effort that had pace and swerve over the helpless Nicaraguan goalkeeper.
“We have worked on a few things on the training ground but I saw he was open,” said Dollery. “To be fair to him, he had to hit it as well as he did.”
Clarke’s first goal came on another set piece when Canada had a corner kick. The Vancouver Whitecaps striker made a run to the near post and tapped in Ben Fisk’s well-placed corner.
Clarke also hit the crossbar with a left-footed shot in the first half and was the beneficiary of some stellar passing all night.
“Fantastic crosses by [Fisk] and [Dollery],” said Clarke. “They were great crosses on a silver platter and all I had to do was pass them in.”
Canada’s third goal came from the penalty spot when Piette’s shot struck Cristian Gutierrez’s arm. Gutierrez was sent off for his second yellow card and Eustaquio scored by putting the ball in the corner to his right.
The game wasn’t without controversy as Canada’s Alessandro Riggi was struck in the face by a Nicaraguan player, an offence that carries an automatic red card offence.
Not only was there no red card, but Nicaragua won a penalty just seconds later on what was a marginal call, at best. Piette admitted after the game that the penalty call was on him but it was largely due to some expert theatrics by the Nicaraguan player.
“I was marking him and I was standing right there and he dove,” said Piette. “I give him 10 on 10 on the dive but things happen and fortunately we won the game.”
Pavon made no mistake with his penalty but the game was put beyond all doubt when Clarke got on the end of Dollery’s cross in the second half for his second goal of the night and McKendry scored from close range with 25 minutes remaining.
Canada had gotten off to a shaky start at the tournament, losing 2-1 to Cuba on Monday. Cuba won the group with a 3-0 victory over Nicaragua on Wednesday.