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After rolling over lesser opposition, Canada faces a far stiffer World Cup qualifying test in Suriname on Tuesday.
A loss and the World Cup dream is over.
While both teams are 3-0-0, the 70th-ranked Canadians lead Group B on goal difference, meaning a win or a tie at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., will move John Herdman's team into the second round of qualifying in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Only the group winner advances.
Suriname, currently ranked 136th in the world, represents a definite step up in class from No. 168 Bermuda, the 194th-ranked Cayman Islands and No. 205 Aruba. Canada dispatched those three by a combined score of 23-1 while Suriname outscored the same opposition 16-0.
Manager Dean Gorre has assembled a veteran squad, drawing on Dutch-born talent with Suriname roots.
"This is the strongest team Canada has faced since the U.S.A, Mexico," said Herdman, naming the two powers in CONCACAF. "It's going to be a great challenge … We've got to take this game as seriously as we've taken any game in our history to date.
"So it's a big match. This is a tough opponent. It's real, but our boys will be ready."
Added defender Doneil Henry: "It's a lively team ... They have really good players, especially going forward in their attack."
Six teams will advance from CONCACAF's 29-team first round of qualifying. The Group B winner will face the Group E victor in a home-and-away second round playoff June 12 and 15.
Haiti and Nicaragua meet Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to decide who carries Group E colours. While both teams are 2-0-0, Haiti holds an edge in goal difference.
Canada would open the playoff at the Group E winner, with the return match in Bridgeview.
While a visit to Haiti during a pandemic may not be desired, Canada has a score to settle after blowing a 2-0 lead and losing 3-2 to the Haitians in the 2019 Gold Cup quarterfinals.
The three second-round winners advance to the final stage of qualifying, the so-called Hexagonal round-robin, where No. 10 Mexico, the 20th-ranked U.S., No. 45 Jamaica, No. 50 Costa Rica and No. 67 Honduras join in for the first time.
The Canadian men have not reached the final round of qualifying in the region since the buildup to France '98.
In recent months, Suriname has added to its talent pool.
Of the 11 starters in Suriname's 6-0 win over Bermuda last Friday, only fullback Kelvin Leerdam (Seattle Sounders) was actually born in the country sandwiched between French Guiana and Guyana. Nine others were born in the Netherlands. Winger/forward Floridan Jozefzoon (on loan to England's Rotherham United from Derby County), was born in French Guiana but moved to the Netherlands as a child with his family.
The Suriname squad has experience — its starting lineup against Bermuda averaged 30 years of age — and good credentials.
Nigel Hasselbaink, who scored a hat trick against Bermuda, is the nephew of former English Premier League star Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Nigel Hasselbaink plays in Israel for Bnei Sakhnin FC.
Winger Sheraldo Becker, who had two goals against Bermuda, plays for FC Union Berlin in the Bundesliga. Centre back Shaquille Pinas, who scored the other goal, is with ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands.
Other Suriname players include captain Ryan Donk (Galatasaray, Turkey), fullback Ridgeciano Haps (Feyenoord, the Netherlands) and midfielder Tjaronn Chery (Maccabi Haifa, Israel).
Of course, Canada has also reached around the globe for talent.
The current roster includes David Wotherspoon (born in Scotland) and Frank Sturing (the Netherlands).
Steven Vitoria, Stephen Eustaquio and Theo Corbeanu switched their international allegiance to Canada after representing Portugal (Vitoria and Eustaquio) and Romania (Corbeanu) respectively at the youth level.
Canada opened World Cup qualifying by beating Bermuda 5-1 and the Cayman Islands 11-0 before blanking Aruba 7-0 on Saturday.
Herdman essentially fielded a split-squad against Aruba, resting goalkeeper Milan Borjan and only bringing on Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin late in the match.
Canada will be at full strength Tuesday.
"If we follow our processes and bring that passion, the cup final passion the players are talking about, then I think there aren't many teams in CONCACAF that could stop this Canadian team at this stage," Herdman said.
Suriname defeated the Cayman Islands 3-0 and Aruba 6-0 before shutting out Bermuda 6-0.
"They don't need many chances to score goals," said Herdman.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press