Costa Rica 1-0 Canada – Match Analysis

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Thursday night could have been the night that Canada clinched glory in World Cup Qualification, for the first time since 1986. But with a disastrous red card early on in the match and a few missing figureheads, it wasn’t meant to be for the Maple Leafs, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of a defensively robust Costa Rica. Here is our match analysis of the Canadian team against Costa Rica, and what needs to change in order to secure World Cup Qualification on Sunday against Jamaica.


As they have now done in their last few fixtures, Canada set up in a 4-4-2 formation, showing flexibility in the different phases of the game. Atiba Hutchinson lined up alongside Kamal Miller in an unorthodox back-line, with Sam Adekugbe and Alphonso Davies both missing out and Richie Laryea filling the left-sided void instead. Alistair Johnston moved over to right-back as he did against USA, with little cause for concern given his role as a right-sided centre-back throughout qualification. Hutchinson’s selection at centre-back allowed room for Mark-Anthony Kaye to play alongside the effervescent Stephen Eustaquio, and with Laryea lower down on the pitch, Jonathan Osorio was handed a start down the left wing. Everything else was straightforward for Les Rouges, with Milan Borjan commandeering in goal, Tajon Buchanan twinkling his toes down the right, and joint scoring-leaders Jonathan David and Cyle Larin linking up at the front end of the pitch.

But with so many changes, Canada took their time to develop rhythm and control in the match. Eustaquio bossed the midfield with a sense of swagger that we’ve come to expect of the Porto man, while both Tajon Buchanan and Richie Laryea showed moments of brilliance out wide. But others appeared nervous about the prospect of World Cup Qualification looming over their heads, and Mark-Anthony Kane ultimately ended up losing his head within the first half hour.

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From there, Canada developed more rhythm and control, settling into a 3-4-2 formation, with Stephen Eustaquio attracting himself toward the ball as much as possible. The Porto midfielder was brilliant in spraying long diagonals forward, and frequently dropped to the right or left of the centre-backs to pick up possession and push Johnston or Laryea further forward. Jonathan Osorio shifted inside to play alongside the 25-year-old, vacating more room for Laryea to roam forward. Osorio then also took his moments to drop left and right of the two centre-backs, sometimes even giving Canada somewhat of a bowl-shaped build-up (similar actually to that of Costa Rica’s with their two fullbacks). In doing so, this allowed space for Tajon Buchanan to float centrally and receive in between the lines, where he could get on the ball and drive forward. The more obvious benefit was that it allowed Laryea to get on the ball down the left and work his trickery, which he did to a magnificent effect. The poorly named ‘Gatorade Player of the Game’ oozed class in possession, winning 4 take-on’s and 5 fouls for his team, whilst propelling his team forward and leading by example down the left. With Eustaquio taking his moments to spread long passes from left to right over to Jonathan David or Tajon Buchanan, Canada continued to threaten Costa Rica throughout the match. Having hit the post twice, the Canadian team can even consider themselves unlucky not to have levelled the score, despite not generating that many clear-cut chances.


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With two key stars in Adekugbe and Alphonso Davies missing in action, John Herdman had very little to work with in changing the match from the bench. But craving that all-important win, Herdman went for the audacious move in taking off a defender in Alistair Johnston, replacing him with wing wizard and tight space dribbler Junior Hoilett. The move was a welcomed one. Costa Rica had sat back in their 4-3-3 shape since scoring the goal, and at that point, Osorio and Eustaquio were stealing Johnston’s position in possession anyway. While the CF Montreal defender was awesome out of possession and timed some of his tackles to perfection in transitional moments, taking him off was a logical decision and Herdman’s deduction of how to break down Los Ticos. That shifted Canada’s shape to a now or never 2-5-2, with only Kamal Miller and Atiba Hutchinson hanging back.

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Costa Rica could have taken advantage of Canada’s high-line and lack of defensive presence throughout the game, simply by hitting more long passes over the top and forcing Canada into a difficult situation to contend with. Borjan held an extraordinarily reserved position away from the centre-backs, vacating a ton of space that the less than rapid Hutchinson and Miller might not have been able to contend with up against the likes of Joel Campbell. In fact, that’s exactly how Costa Rica generated their best chance in the second half, when Hutchinson’s wayward header landed into the path of Campbell to go through on goal. Luckily Borjan stood strong, and the Canadian captain caught up right at the very end of Campbell’s stuttering foot finding.

Against Jamaica, who may sit back and then break quickly on the counter, Canada will need to be careful with this high-line, particularly in a 4-4-2 where they don’t have the added reassurance of an additional recovering defender. With Laryea playing so high and wide on the left, Costa Rica could have taken more advantage of their own right-side. Had they been braver in leaving men out wide to hit in transition, Canada could easily have been pegged back an additional goal.

To give some credit to Canada, they put up a valiant post-red card performance. Richie Laryea raced back to bring out the best in their defensive 4-4-1 shape, looking to track the interchangeable movement of Anthony Contreras and Gerson Torres. Osorio and Eustaquio held strong in midfield to limit central penetration, with David and Larin also doing an important job to come to the left in support of Laryea. To even hit the post twice after a red card against Costa Rica shows just how far Canada have come since this time a few years ago, and the massive motivation John Herdman’s given to this team since coming through the door.

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It is now all to play for on Sunday, as Canada looks to claim their first World Cup Qualification birth since 1986. It would still take a miracle for Les Rouges not to pull off qualification at this point, but Herdman’s men deserve a fairy-tale ending to this story, and that could be destined to come on Sunday.

So there it is! A quick analysis of Canada’s 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica, and how the Canadian team should look to progress forward in their second match this week against Jamaica. Be sure to check out more tactical analyses and more on the Canadian National Team, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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