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Mexico goes big, Canada goes home

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With another early exit from a CONCACAF U-20 Championship, Canada’s program-record absence from the FIFA U-20 World Cup now extends to 12 years.

Canada lost its second straight game at the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, this time humbled 5-0 by defending champions Mexico, a team that has not lost in this event since 2009.

Francisco Cordova and Ronaldo Cisneros each scored in the first half,  while Cisneros and Claudio Zamudio and Eduardo Aguirre scored in the 65th, 82nd and 90th minutes, respectively.

“We take these on the chin. We’ve got pride in the players and the performance,” said head coach Rob Gale. “What they had in the tank, they gave. We’re not going to have a blame culture and start pointing fingers here. It’s back to the grind.”

As expected, Mexico had the bulk of the possession but for the first half hour, Canada did well to keep them to the outside and looked relatively comfortable defending a Mexican side that didn’t look like it could break Canada down.

But that changed in the 36th minute when the cross came to Cordoba for the diving header from close range but he was one of three Mexican players in the area with Gabriel Boakye the only Canadian nearby.

Just a few minutes later, Cisneros was unmarked after he quickly altered his run in the Canadian penalty area and the cross was right on his foot to volley in and prevent Canada from escaping from the first half down just a goal.

With that, the wind was very much out of the Canadians’ sails and the second half the team threw caution to the wind to find some measure of offence, but that left them stretched at the back and with the amount of pedigree in the Mexico squad, Canada was made to pay.

“It’s hard not to qualify for a World Cup as I’ve always wanted to my whole life but there are always ups and downs in football,” said Liam Millar, the midfielder who plays in the Liverpool academy. “The things that bring you down will also help bring you up so tough results like this will push your career and make you want to work harder.”

The day started with the Canadian Soccer Association announcing its new class of players involved in the EXCEL identification camps and posting videos of the current crop of U-20 players extolling the virtues of the program.

It ends with those same players on the verge of being the first Canadian team to leave this competition without scoring a goal.

It’s now five straight World Cup absences at this age group. That’s still behind the eight-World Cup drought at the senior level —  but these are the things the average fan will look at and wonder what’s going on in the Canadian program.

Gale is right to point out that had things gone differently in the first game against Honduras, when Canada created some quality scoring chances, this game is much less important.

But in the struggles of the Canadian program, one thing that it is shown is an inability to grind out results and has a habit of leaving points on the table that it deserves and can’t snatch unlikely ties or wins.

“You look at the last group and how many players are pushing into the senior team,” said Gale referring to the group from two years ago that’s seen the likes of Cyle Larin and Marco Bustos breaking in. “That’s what youth football is for. Yes, we want them to go to the World Cup, we want them to get staging posts but who remembers the squads that won in the World Cup? One team wins in the World Cup. Obviously, we want to get there and one team wins championships. We’ve been dealt a tough hand in the draw with Mexico and Honduras to start. We’re right there in that first game.”

Canada finishes its play against Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday. Antigua has also been eliminated.

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