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Canada midfielder Alphonso Davies (19) and Trinidad and Tobago defender Shannon Gomez (14) battle for control of the ball during the second half at Toyota Stadium. Mar 23, 2024; Frisco, Texas.Jerome Miron/Reuters

Canada is headed to Copa America and a marquee matchup with World Cup champion Argentina.

But it took a while to get there with a well-organized Trinidad and Tobago hard to pierce in a CONCACAF Nations League play-in match Saturday. Second-half goals by Cyle Larin and Jacob Shaffelburg earned Canada a 2-0 win — and a trip to the South American championship as one of six CONCACAF guest teams.

The 96th-ranked Soca Warriors defended resolutely and in numbers as No. 50 Canada came on in waves.

The Canadian men had 63 per cent possession and an 11-1 edge in corners in the first 45 minutes but could not make anything of it.

Interim coach Mauro Biello said his team was calm at the break.

“They knew that we were in control of the game and just to stay on task,” said Biello.

The breakthrough finally came in the 61st minute when Tajon Buchanan cut in towards the penalty box. He played the ball into a teammate in traffic and it landed at the feet of Larin, who beat goalkeeper Denzil Smith a low shot for his Canadian men’s record 29th goal.

It was a job done for Canada, although it took a while to get there. And there were some tense moments as Trinidad pressed late with goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau stopping danger man Levi Garcia in the 85th minute.

Shaffelburg hammered a shot off the goalpost with Smith beaten in the 86th minute. And he eased the pressure in the 91st minute, roofing a shot for his second Canada goal as the Trinidad defence was caught short.

Canada slots into Group A with top-ranked Argentina, No. 33 Peru and No. 42 Chile at Copa America, with the Canada-Argentina match kicking off the tournament opener June 20 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I’m super-happy for all our fans, that’s first and foremost,” said Biello. “What this means to all our fans is huge. To be able to be in a Copa America, to play against the world champions. This is what all the soccer fans, the sports fans in this country want to see.”

Canada has played Argentina just once before, losing 5-0 in May 2010 before 66,000 fans in Buenos Aires.

No. 54 Costa Rica played No. 78 Honduras in the second play-in game Saturday at Toyota Stadium.

Saturday’s game was a must-win for Canada, desperate for some good news on the pitch amid financial questions and uncertainty at Canada Soccer. Copa America provides a chance for elite opposition as the Canadians look head to the 2026 World Cup.

The 13th-ranked U.S. and No. 15 Mexico, Canada’s co-hosts at the 2026 soccer showcase, won their CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals to qualify directly to Copa America, as did Panama.

Mexico and the U.S. meet Sunday in the CONCACAF Nations League final in Arlington, Texas.

Canada came into Saturday’s game with a 7-2-2 record against Trinidad.

The teams were forced into the high-stakes play-in match after losing Nations League quarterfinals in November — Canada beaten by No. 57 Jamaica and Trinidad by the U.S., respectively.

The Canadians blew a 3-1 lead against the Reggae Boyz and lost on the away goals rule with the series knotted a 4-4. The Soca Warriors lost 4-2 despite winning the second leg 2-1 in Port-of-Spain.

It was a sunny 18 C for the mid-afternoon kickoff at a largely empty Toyota Stadium.

Crepeau earned his 15th cap in his first start for Canada since a World Cup qualifier in Panama in March 2022. Crepeau, now with the Portland Timbers, missed the World Cup in Qatar after breaking his leg in the 2022 MLS Cup final playing for Los Angeles FC.

There were some physical moments, prompting Mexican referee Marco Ortiz to show four yellow cards in the first half.

While Canada Soccer continues to search for a permanent replacement for John Herdman as coach, Biello has looked ahead to the 2026 World Cup in summoning 10 players with fewer than 10 caps in what he has called a “cultural reset.”

Defender Joel Waterman, who earned his third cap, and forward Ike Ugbo, who earned his ninth cap, were the only member of the single-digit cap club to make a starting 11 that went into the game with 34 combined caps.

FC Porto midfielder Stephen Eustaquio captained Canada which was wearing its new Nike kit.

Shaffelburg, Mathieu Choiniere, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Samuel Piette and Luc de Fougerolles came off the bench for Canada in the second half. It was a Canada debut for de Fougerolles, an 18-year-old Fulham defender.

Halifax Wanderers captain Andre Rampersad started for Trinidad, earning his 12th cap. He was replaced in the 56th minute by newly signed Pacific FC forward Reon Moore.

Canada has never participated in Copa America before. It was slated to play in the 2001 tournament as a reward for winning the Gold Cup in February 2000. But CONMEBOL, the South American federation, announced on the eve of the competition that it would be postponed to 2002 due to security concerns in host Colombia.

Five days later, it decided to go ahead with the event as planned. Canada, which had sent its players back to their clubs, was replaced by Costa Rica.

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