KINGSTON, Jamaica — Missing some key players and facing a physical Jamaica side under fire for a poor start to the final round of World Cup qualifying, Canada emerged with a valuable away point after a scoreless draw Sunday.
The Canadians (1-0-4) remain unbeaten in the Octagonal round-robin. But they will think back on squandering a gilt-edged chance falling to Liam Millar in the second half of a game where clear scoring chances were few and far between.
It's a measure of the raised expectations around the 51st-ranked Canadian men that the single point will be seen as a disappointment in some quarters. But factoring in Thursday's 1-1 draw in Mexico, it's been a productive trip.
"We've come away with a good point," said Canada coach John Herdman, seeing the glass half full. "I think this is a good point. We'll rue missing two (more on the night) but I think coming out of this — Mexico's a tough place to get a point, Jamaica's a tough place to come and get a point.
"And we're on our way back home now for three home matches."
Canada returns to Toronto to host Panama on Wednesday at BMO Field. Then it's two more home games in Edmonton in November, against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake made a remarkable save in the 60th minute to deny Millar, who seemed to have an open net after a fine low cross from Alphonso Davies, who showed his class throughout the game. Herdman and Millar were both left holding their heads in disbelief after the athletic Blake, the reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year with the Philadelphia Union, somehow covered the gap to get his hands to the ball.
"A game-winning save for us," said Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore.
The contest, played on a bumpy pitch at an empty Kingston National Stadium, was no work of art. The Canadians had more of the ball in the first half but neither team put a shot on target in the first 45 minutes.
Canada outshot No. 59 Jamaica 10-9 (2-1 in shots on target) and had 10 corners to Jamaica's three.
"We never really threatened them at the levels that we can," said Herdman.
Jamaica (0-3-2), which hit the post early in the second half, looked most dangerous on set pieces and crosses. Canada, meanwhile, failed to take advantage of its numerous corners.
Jamaica took no prisoners with Andre Gray lucky to escape with a yellow card in the eighth minute for elbowing a Canadian defender to the ground. Costa Rican referee Keylor Herrera handed out four cautions to Jamaica and one to Canada's Samuel Piette.
Jamaica was called for 21 fouls, compared to 12 for Canada.
In other games Sunday, Panama defeated the U.S. 1-0 in Panama City, Costa Rica beat El Salvador 2-1 in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Mexico blanked Honduras 3-0 in Mexico City.
Ninth-ranked Mexico (3-0-2) remains atop the standings with 11 points. The 13th-ranked U.S. and No. 68 Panama (both 2-1-2) are three points behind, with the Americans holding down second place on goal difference. Canada is fourth on seven points, ahead of No. 44 Costa Rica (1-1-3) on six, No. 65 El Salvador (1-2-2) on five, No. 63 Honduras (0-2-3) on three and Jamaica on two.
Each of the eight teams in the Octagonal play 14 matches. Come March, the top three sides will book their ticket to Qatar 2022 with the fourth-place team taking part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
The struggling Reggae Boyz came into play Sunday under a microscope with Jamaica's Gleaner newspaper calling it "a day of reckoning" for the home side. Herdman called Jamaica "a wounded animal at the moment."
Jamaica was beaten 2-0 by the U.S. in Austin on Thursday. Prior to that the Jamaicans lost 2-1 in Mexico, 3-0 to visiting Panama and tied 1-1 in Costa Rica.
Canada opened play in the final qualifying round by tying visiting Honduras 1-1 before drawing the U.S. 1-1 in Nashville and blanking El Salvador 3-0 in Toronto.
The Canadians were without the injured Atiba Hutchinson, Cyle Larin and Lucas Cavallini as well as veteran goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who is recovering from COVID. Richie Laryea, Tajon Buchanan and Steven Vitoria were suspended after picking up yellow cards, their second of the round, in the second half against Mexico.
Defender Doneil Henry, making his 49th appearance, captained Canada for the first time.
Herdman made five changes to his starting lineup with Henry, Sam Adekugbe, Derek Cornelius, Piette and Millar slotting in for the three suspended players with midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who is on a yellow card, and defender Kamal Miller dropping to the bench.
The Canadian starting 11 came into the game with a combined 281 caps with Piette, Jonathan Osorio and Henry accounting for 142 of them.
Junior Hoilett and David Wotherspoon started on the bench, having joined the team in Jamaica after skipping the Mexico portion of the trip due to the quarantine in Britain necessitated by a visit to Mexico.
The Jamaica starting 11 included Blake and Alvas Powell (Philadelphia Union), Kemar Lawrence (Toronto FC), Kemar Roofe (Rangers, Scotland), Oniel Fisher (L.A. Galaxy), Bobby Reid (Fulham, England) and Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi, Belgium).
Missing were star striker Michail Antonio (West Ham, England), Liam Bailey (Aston Villa, England), Liam Moore (Reading, England), Ethan Pinnock (Brentford, England) and the suspended Damion Lowe (Al-Ittihad, Egypt).
It was a choppy first half with both teams looking to suffocate the other.
The Jamaicans kept a close eye on Davies with Fisher yellow-carded in the seventh minute for taking down the speedy Bayern Munich star. Davies went down again in the 20th minute, caught in the face by a swinging arm from Je-Vaughn Watson, who had been booked minutes earlier.
Jamaica threatened in the 23rd minute off a Lawrence set piece delivery but Roofe's angled header went wide.
More Jamaica physical play left Davies writhing on the ground again in the 26th minute after Fisher fell on his leg.
Jamaica had another good chance in the 38th when a cross found Junior Flemmings in space at the far post but his header was blocked by Canadian Alistair Johnston.
Early in the second half, Flemmings' header hit the post after a fine set piece delivery from Lawrence.
Eustaquio came close after coming on in the second half, heading just wide in the 73rd. Maxime Crepeau made a diving save on Lawrence's long-range shot in stoppage time.
It marks Canada's first trip to the final round of qualifying in the region since the leadup to France 98. The Canadian men have only ever taken part in one World Cup, in 1986 in Mexico.
Canada came into the game with a 9-6-6 record against Jamaica in 21 international “A” matches since 1985. The Canadian men were 1-2-3 against the Reggae Boyz in World Cup qualifiers (1992, 1997 and 2008).
Canada won 2-0 the last time the two met, in September 2017 at BMO Field. That game saw a 16-year-old Davies sent off in the 75th minute for kicking out at Jamaica's Lowe after the two went down in a tangle in the corner.
The Canadian men had lost their last four games in Jamaica.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 10, 2021