We dodged so many bullets in that game it was like the Matrix.
Guadeloupe's midfield was terrible and Canada controlled the ball with impunity. Forward Ali Gerba had a heavy advantage on the central defense whenever the ball was on the ground, although he struggled more in the air. Michael Klukowski and Nik Ledgerwood, two of the Canadians I was most worried about, actually had things pretty well in hand. Milan Borjan, make his competitive Canadian debut and was near-flawless.
Yet the team couldn't get killer balls into the Guadeloupe box. The defenders, particularly in the middle, were victimized by Guadeloupan long balls that led to some good chances. The midfield might have controlled the ball but they struggled to win it when they had the opportunity. Guadeloupe spent almost the entire game down to ten men after a horror tackle on Will Johnson and yet the Canadians failed to take any advantage. Canada's victory only came when Dwayne De Rosario scored a very, very questionable penalty after Ali Gerba went down in the penalty area.
Canada got the result, although they didn't get the goal differential they so desperately needed. With Panama's upset win over the United States, the Canadians seem to be in somewhat dire straits in Group C and have played badly enough that they inspire little confidence. No wonder national team supporters are biting their fingernails. The team won, hooray, let's move onto the next one, but it's impossible not to look back at our performance against a country that isn't even a country and feel terror.
If Canada tries that against Panama, we'll be lucky to even get to the quarterfinals, let alone beat anybody.
First, a word about the refereeing, which will be a point of controversy. That wasn't a penalty. Seeing it live I thought that Ali Gerba might have embellished the tackle a bit and, after the game, I had this confirmed. The bigger they are the harder they fall and Gerba is pretty big. That said, Canada has been on the wrong end of that decision more times than I can tell and I can't really complain too much. That doesn't stop me from feeling a bit guilty for Guadeloupe. They're a solid team and I encountered a few of their fans at Raymond James Stadium, not one of whom threatened to dismember me. Guadeloupe didn't deserve to concede that goal and played a mostly honourable game.
I say "mostly". Dives were, by CONCACAF standards, not a problem, but they showed a real ugly streak. The tackle against Will Johnson by Jean-Luc Lamborde was horrifying: two feet, studs up, seemingly a second after Johnson had released the ball. What a miracle that Johnson was unhurt and Lamborde could not have done more to earn his early shower without actually football-tackling the goalkeeper.
Then, at the end of the game, Livio Nabab football-tackled the goalkeeper. Borjan went up to grab a high ball, grabbed it, has his hands on it, and practically had time to write a sonnet before Nabab thundered into Borjan with the force of an avenging angel. That ought to have been a red as well but Nabab escaped with a yellow as Borjan got treatment. Perhaps Trevor Taylor felt bad for them.
There were a few other missed calls of varying severity (Simeon Jackson arguably earned another penalty late in the game for Canada but that call, too, was missed, and the offside whistles were generally terrible all day). For the most part, the game was just refereed badly. Trevor Taylor out of Barbados was the man in the middle and looked in completely over his head, blowing calls for both teams and hurting the pace of the game. The sooner he gets a job taking bribes for CONCACAF, the better.
The shame is that Canada put themselves into a position where they needed to rely on the referee's good-will. Guadeloupe isn't a bad team, of course: they've had some impressive results over the years and they showed a lot of pluck earlier this tournament against Panama. Nobody expected, or at least nobody should have expected, that Canada would run riot over the unprepared Guadeloupans and escape with a satisfying 10-0 victory. We should have seen more than we got, though: a team that faced an obviously inferior side that was almost immediately playing a man down and that we were still very lucky to beat.
The team was let down by its attack. Dwayne De Rosario, one penalty aside (and a poorly-hit penalty it was: low and close to the middle of the goal) was awful. Josh Simpson had his moments of glory but in general underestimated the Guadeloupe defense: he played the ball into trouble expecting to be able to dance out of it and then couldn't. His crossing was also wasteful. Ali Gerba had few opportunities but didn't convert the ones he got (he'll have nightmares of that Simpson cross he failed to toe in) and didn't do enough to unleash his ferocious shot. The Guadeloupe defense seemed to appreciate Gerba's threat and double-teamed him, doing their best to keep him with his back to goal. Rob Friend, suffice to say, did not get the same respect.
Then the defense. Guadeloupe's attack came mostly through long balls and quick counters but it worked. Kevin McKenna, and I feel almost embarrassed saying this, looks sort of washed up. This was the third straight game where he caused me to occasionally grimace and forced a few too many "oh he should have got to that"s. Besides his defensive lapses, McKenna will want a couple of header opportunities off corner kicks back: he could have made it 3-0 on his own. Andre Hainault is a fine player but not one who should be anchoring a World Cup-calibre international defense.
It wasn't a nightmarish game, but it was a discouraging one. The better team on the day, arguably, did not win, and a similar performance against Panama simply won't be good enough. Thanks to Panama's win over the United States Canada has a chance to win the group, but they also have a chance of sagging into fourth place or (almost as bad) finishing in third and getting a date with Mexico. In order to get into the top two, Canada must either beat the stuffing out of Panama by at least two goals or get either a lesser win or a draw combined with the United States getting fewer points against Guadeloupe. Neither of those things are very likely.