Home Global Game CONCACAF The virtues of playing possum: Haiti stuns Canada in U-20 third-place match

The virtues of playing possum: Haiti stuns Canada in U-20 third-place match

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When Canada played Haiti in the group stage of the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship, both teams entered the game knowing that they had already qualified for the semifinal stage.

Haitian coach Marc Collat decided not to go for first place in the group. World Cup places aren’t handed out for group-stage excellence; so, he decided to swap out pretty much his entire team. Haiti’s B side went out there, and gave up three goals to Canada inside of 20 minutes. Haiti got beaten soundly by big, bad Canada — and many of us saw the semifinals as Canada, Mexico, the United States and Haiti. With a big emphasis on the “and.”

But, when it comes to tournament soccer, there is an argument for playing possum in the group stage. If you meet a team you faced in the group stage later in the tournament, that opponent doesn’t really know what to expect when you meet again. The opponent may be overconfident.

All of those things were in evidence Sunday, when Haiti beat Canada 1-0 in the third place game in Trinidad and Tobago. Haiti gets the third and final CONCACAF spot at the U-20 Women’s World Cup, Canada gets to watch it on TV (or stream it, I guess, well it is 2018).

Sure, we can bellyache how the U-20 team was missing some key pieces (such as Jessie Fleming), but the truth is we saw that this was all coming apart at the 2016 Women’s U-20 World Cup. That Canadian team was outscored 13-1 over three group-stage games; the gulf in class between Canada and the rest of the field was blatantly. Maybe, if this group would have got back to the U-20 Women’s World Cup, things would have been equally as ugly.

But, credit to a Haitian team that hit Canada early — with Sherly Jeudy being played right through the heart of the Canadian defence and slotting home what would be the winning goal in the 18th minute. The Haitians, for a lot of the game, didn’t look all that bothered by a Canadian team that struggled to come up with any kind of offensive game plan.

Canada had three shots at goal all game long. Only two made it on frame. When Canadian sub Jessica De Filippo was sent off late in the second half for a late, clumsy, high-footed challenge, the final nail was driven into Canada’s coffin.

But credit Haiti for winning the game on the field, and the psychological battle that came before it. Let’s face it, like Germany did so famously in its 1954 World Cup group-stage match against the heavily favoured Hungarians, the Haitians, for all intents and purposes, threw the game. They offered nothing for their opponent to learn from the match, other than maybe an inflated sense of entitlement. And, just like Germany famously upset Hungary in the 1954 final, Haiti came with a different team and a different game plan.

Lesson for everyone out there? First place in your group — if you’ve already qualified — means nothing. Remember this lesson the  next time you want your favourite team to keep playing its starters to “win” a group, when it’s already clinched a spot in the next stage.

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