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Canada players stretch as they prepare to practice on the pitch at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Saturday, July 13, 2013, in Denver, where Canada faces Panama in a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match on Sunday. (David Zalubowski/AP)
Canada players stretch as they prepare to practice on the pitch at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Saturday, July 13, 2013, in Denver, where Canada faces Panama in a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match on Sunday. (David Zalubowski/AP)

CONCACAF

Canada set for must-win game at Gold Cup against Panama Add to ...

Canada needs a win against Panama on Sunday in order to mantain its slim chance of advancing to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

But first, the Canadian team will have to score some goals.

Canada has been held scoreless through the first two games of the tournament, losing their first match 1-0 to Martinique and their second 2-0 to Mexico.

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Interim head coach Colin Miller understands the predicament facing Canada heading into their third match.

“We just can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat here,” Miller said Saturday. “We have to have a belief and commit more players forward that desperately want to score goals. I’m a big fan of Panama. I’m a big fan of how they play the game — the intensity, the organization of the team.”

Canada meets Panama on what is expected to be a very hot Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field, the home of the Denver Broncos. But even with a win, the team’s chances of advancing depend upon other results.

To advance, the Canadians will have to finish the first round with one of the two best third-place records in the 12-team tournament. This means Canada would have to beat Panama and hope for a lopsided result in the Martinique-Mexico match later in the afternoon to squeeze through the second round on goal difference.

It’s a tall order but there is reason for optimism as Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes said in his pre-game press conference that he will be resting a number of starters.

Panama has already advanced to the second stage of the Gold Cup with two wins in two games.

Panama stunned Mexico 2-1 in its first game of the tournament and needed a late penalty against a 10-man Martinique on Thursday.

Miller says any Panamanian team that takes the field is a formidable challenge.

“Whoever wears the Panamanian jersey wears it with pride and they’re good enough to be with the Gold Cup squad, so we are in a position where we cannot possibly underestimate any opposition,” Miler said. “We know that regardless of who the opposition is it’s not about Panama, it’s about Canada and what we do is our mentality is to try to get three points tomorrow.”

Canada was already using this Gold Cup tournament as a way to give younger players experience at the international level, but with veterans dropping out due to illness, injuries and other reasons, the country’s young talent has been getting more time than expected.

The Canadians ended Thursday’s 2-0 defeat to Mexico with two teenagers and a number of players in their early 20s on the field.

With attackers Simeon Jackson and Randy Edwini-Bonsu out, Canada was dealt a further blow with Marcus Haber limping off after the first half with a heel injury.

Miller said Haber would be “50/50” for Sunday’s game, but midfielder Julian de Guzman said Canada has adapted as best it can to the ever-changing team.

“The spirit is definitely positive regardless of the situation — players falling out and certain players not being around — but it also gives an opportunity for the young guys to showcase themselves and for the most part they’ve done pretty well,” said de Guzman, who inherited the captain’s armband when Will Johnson was forced out of the squad with an illness.

“They’ve showed that they have a good future ahead at the international level and hopefully this will be a way for them earn spots at some point in their career.”

Panama opted not to train in Saturday’s blistering heat,while Canada had a brief session on the pitch they’ll be using on Sunday.

“The conditions will affect both teams,” said forward Tosaint Ricketts who would likely be the choice to replace Haber, if needed. “We’ve just got to dig deep and find the fighting spirit and try to get the points out of the match.”

If Canada can make it into the next round, they will travel to Baltimore for a quarter-final match next weekend.

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