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Canada tries to learn lessons from Mexico defeat

VANCOUVER – It was a night full of anticipation and excitement. A sold-out crowd and lots of red and green to be seen around BC Place for what became the largest attended Canadian national team event in any sport in the country’s history.

But for all of that anticipation, excitement, and passion that was seen on Good Friday night in downtown Vancouver, what a crowd of 54,798 witnessed was a Canada side that looked out of its depth. The Reds were unable to handle a Mexico team that showed its pedigree in a comfortable 3-0 victory in World Cup qualifying.

First-half strikes by Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and the impressive Hirving Lozano led El Tri to a third-straight win in CONCACAF Group A, as the visitors outclassed and overpowered a beleaguered-looking Canadian side in the first of a home-and-home set of qualifiers. The return game is set for Tuesday at the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

Having spoken with plenty of confidence in the build-up to Friday’s game, Canadian head coach Benito Floro and his players were brought back down to earth by Mexico, with the Spaniard having few arguments with the outcome of the game.

“The real superiority of Mexico today was very clear,” Floro said in the post-match press conference. “What matters in this moment is to analyze not only the result, but the performance. We need to extract what was positive because the rest (of the game) showed how the other team was better than us.”

Fans were thoroughly entertained by a first half that had chances at both ends. Two of Canada’s best opportunities fell to Junior Hoilett, but his finishing left much to be desired, as he failed to test Mexico goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera.

“I should have done better on the opportunities I had, but I just have to stay positive and (we) have another chance to go back there and rectify our mistakes we made tonight,” Hoilett said to reporters. “They’re a terrific side and we just should have stuck more together tonight.”

The real story of the match was how Mexico’s attacking wing play opened up a disjointed Canadian defensive back line in the opening 45 minutes, as Lozano and Jesus 'Tecatito' Corona used their speed and skill to tip the balance of the contest Mexico’s way. Canada’s outside fullbacks in particular were badly exposed by El Tri, as left back Marcel de Jong and right back Doneil Henry struggled immensely to contain Mexico’s attack. A poor defensive clearance by Henry led to Mexico sealing a three-goal victory through Corona in the second half.

Floro defended his decision to try and shape Henry, who is a natural center back, into a right back that he can depend on at the international level. “I consider Doneil to be one of the best fullbacks we can have,” Floro said. “We have a lot of center backs, but we don’t have enough fullbacks, so we need to start including Henry in the lineup as a fullback because we need him in this position, for the present and for the future.”

One bright spot was Canada’s newest cap, as Scott Arfield made his debut for Les Rouges as a second-half substitute. The Scottish-born midfielder offered some bright moments to suggest he may be in line for a start in Mexico City next week.

“That’s completely out of my hands. That’s completely up to the manager,” Arfield said regarding a possible start on Tuesday. “If the manager sees fit for me to be part of that game, I’m absolutely delighted to do so. It was an absolute pleasure for me to play in this arena in front of so many fans. It’s something that will live very long in my memory, and hopefully, take my international career further as well.”

For the experienced Will Johnson, his focus will be on an improved display next week after admitting that Canada was not at its best in Vancouver. “I don’t think we put forth an effort of who we are, so tonight was an opportunity that we missed,” said the Toronto FC midfielder. “Lucky for us, we get to go and do it on Tuesday and put forth a better account of the group of guys in that locker room.”