ORLANDO, Fla. — One down, 19 more to go.
Canada opened its oft-delayed World Cup qualifying campaign Thursday with a comfortable 5-1 win over Bermuda. It's the start of a long road, with at least 19 more matches needed to get to Qatar in 2022.
Cyle Larin scored three goals, with Alphonso Davies playing provider each time, as the Canadian men played their first competitive match since a 4-1 CONCACAF Nations League loss to the U.S. on Nov. 16, 2019, at the same venue — Exploria Stadium.
Richie Laryea and debutant Theo Corbeanu also scored for Canada. Kane Critchlow replied for Bermuda with a second-half goal against the run of play.
It was a scrappy opening 15 minutes for the Canadians, perhaps unsurprising given their time apart. But once the engine warmed up, it was one-way traffic.
"It took us a while to get started, but once we did get started you could see the quality in that team," said coach John Herdman.
"All in all a good night, but loads to build on," he added. "I mean you look at the potential in this group now. It's one game … and as I keep saying there's 19 more to go. I just can't wait to see these guys in 19 games time."
The degree of difficulty will escalate as the qualifying road unfolds. But this Canadian squad, which was missing Jonathan David and Jonathan Osorio on the night, is brimming with promise
"This is a very very good team," said Laryea. "We've got some really good pieces, some guys that we're missing, that aren't here right now that are also extremely huge pieces. It's only going to get better but we can't settle for anything."
Canada is ranked 73rd in the world, compared to No. 169 for Bermuda. The Bermudians' task was complicated by the fact that some of its players — and coach Kyle Lightbourne — did not make it to the match because of COVID-19 protocols.
Bermuda managed just five players on its bench, compared to 12 for Canada,
"We had to do quite a bit of quarantining to keep ourselves safe so we could even get the amount of players that we did to the match today," said Maurice Lowe, technical development director at the Bermuda Football Association, who ran the team from the sidelines.
While officially a Canadian home game, the match was shifted to Orlando because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. The Canadians face the Cayman Islands on Sunday in Bradenton, Fla., in a game that was to have been hosted by the Caymans but was moved to ease similar quarantine hurdles.
Bermuda gave up a number of early free kicks and Canada made them pay in the 19th minute when Larin, in a crowd, got his head to a curling set-piece delivery from Davies.
The goal seemed to discombobulate the Bermudians, whose shape began to evaporate.
Larin, upping his Canada goals total to 11 in 32 matches, continued his banner season. The 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., ranks third in the Turkish Super Lig with 14 goals for Besiktas and looks full of confidence.
"He's an absolute predator," Herdman said of Larin, who used to play at Exploria Stadium for Orlando City SC.
Davies, meanwhile, was a constant threat. The Bayern Munich star fullback, moved into a more attacking position by Herdman, tormented defenders on the left flank while providing quality service to teammates.
Larin made it 2-0 in the 27th after Bermuda goalkeeper Dale Eve left his penalty box in search of the ball. Davies got there first and — as Eve scrambled to get back into position — fed it to Larin, who coolly beat a defender and slotted it in.
Laryea scored his first for Canada in the 53rd minute, beating Bermuda's sloppy attempt at an offside trap before putting the ball past Eve.
Critchlow cut the margin to 3-1 in the 63rd minute after goalkeeper Milan Borjan spilled a cross from Lejaun Simmons. Critchlow was Johnny-on-the-spot, poking the ball in.
Larin scored his third in the 68th minute, set up again by Davies who had his choice of teammates to choose from in the box. The 18-year-old Corbeanu made it 5-1 in the 81st, tapping home a perfect low cross from fellow substitute Liam Millar.
Larin and Laryea both came up through the Sigma FC program in Mississauga, Ont.
Herdman positioned Lucas Cavallini at the tip of the Canadian spear with Davies, Larin and Junior Hoilett behind him in a potent attack.
With MLS teams in pre-season, eight of the 11 Canadian starters came from European-based dreams. Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Laryea (Toronto FC) and Kamal Miller (CF Montreal) were the MLS starters.
Atiba Hutchinson earned his 85th cap for Canada, moving him past Paul Stalteri into second place among Canadian men behind Julian de Guzman. Borjan earned his 50th cap.
For the 38-year-old Hutchinson, it marks his fifth round of World Cup qualifying. Only goalkeeper Pat Onstad, with six, has taken part in more among Canadian men.
Hutchinson, playing in his 28th World Cup qualifier, wore the captain's armband for the 12th time. After the game, Herdman said his skipper was leaving Friday to return to Turkey.
Canada's starting 11 Thursday took the field with a combined 266 caps under their belt. Some 191 of those came from Hutchinson, Borjan, Larin and Hoilett. The 20-year-old Davies earned his 18th cap.
Cavallini could have had a hat trick in the first 35 minutes.
He was put in alone in the 16th minute but Eve got a hand to his low shot from the edge of the penalty box. The Whitecaps striker had another chance in the 34th minute, after a defender whiffed on a Davies cross, but shot just wide.
A minute later, Cavallini's shot off another fine Davies feed slammed off the crossbar. The burly striker held his head in his hands and kicked the goalpost in frustration.
Eve made a fine reflex save to stop Cavallini's header in the 56th from close range.
Herdman credited Cavallini with occupying the Bermuda centre backs, allowing space for Larin and Davies to exploit.
Nashville SC fullback Alistair Johnston came on in the 69th minute to earn his first Canada cap. Corbeanu, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for Wolves under-23 side in England, followed in the 77th and essentially scored in his first touch.
"That was brilliant," said Herdman, who told him to "go make an impact."
Samuel Piette came off the bench to earn his 50th cap for Canada, which improved to 6-0-4 all-time against Bermuda.
Bermuda, whose population of 72,000 is about the same as Sarnia, Ont., was without Bristol City forward Nahki Wells due to quarantine issues.
After the Caymans, Canada faces two more Group B games — June 5 at No. 200 Aruba and June 8 at home to No. 141 Suriname, which blanked the visiting Caymans 3-0 on Tuesday.
Thirty countries, split into six groups, are taking part in the first round of qualifying in the region which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Only the group winners move on.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2021
The Canadian Press