GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Two games into the CONCACAF Men's Olympic Qualifying Championship and Canada has yet to concede a goal.
But after defeating El Salvador 2-0 in its opening match, its offence stalled Monday in a 0-0 tie with Haiti. The young Canadians dominated possession in the first half but lost their way in the second half as the Haitians came alive.
Canada (1-0-1) needed a strong second-half performance from goalkeeper James Pantemis, who did not have to make a save in the first 45 minutes.
"The first half we were able to control the tempo of the game. We created some good opportunities,'' said Canada coach Mauro Biello. "We didn't take our chances in the first half.
"In the second half we got a little too loose and in different moments they caught us in transition … We needed to be tighter, better."
El Salvador (0-1-1) did Canada a favour later Monday, rallying for a 1-1 tie against Honduras (1-0-1).
Canada faces Honduras on Thursday with the winner taking first place in Group B. A tie would send both teams into the semifinals.
While the two teams are currently both on four points, Honduras has the edge over Canada in goal difference (plus-three compared to plus-two).
The eight-country CONCACAF tournament, originally scheduled for last March but postponed due to the pandemic, will determine which two teams will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean at this summer's Tokyo Olympics.
The top two in each group advance to the semifinals, crossing over with No. 1 playing No. 2 in the other group and vice versa. The semifinal winners book their ticket to Tokyo.
The U.S. and Mexico both improved to 2-0-0 with wins Sunday in Group A play, ensuring they qualify for the semifinals. The two meet Wednesday to decide who tops the group.
Honduras, which blanked Haiti 3-0 in its opener, has made it to the last two Olympics. The Canadian men have not taken part since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
The Hondurans (1-0-0) played El Salvador (0-1-0) in the late game Monday.
"We're at four points right now," said Biello. "For sure we could be disappointed not to take the three (points) but at the same time we've got to learn and we've got to continue to grow from here."
The Canadians pressed as the clock wound down and had several set pieces but failed to take advantage. Haiti goalkeeper Alan Jerome made a game-saving save with his foot on substitute Ballou Tabla on a Canadian counter-attack sparked by speedy winger Tajon Buchanan in stoppage time.
It was 30 degree Celsius for the 4 p.m. local time kickoff at an empty Estado Akron, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2011 Pan American Games.
Haiti (0-1-1) showed its hand early, often stacking 11 men behind the ball in its own half in a defensive block. The Canadians penned the Haitians in their own end early and Jerome used his body to deny Buchanan from in-close in the 13th minute after a fine feed by fullback Zachary Brault-Guillard.
Haiti offered little the few times it did venture into Canadian territory with the ball.
Canada captain Derek Cornelius' header off a corner was off-target in the 30th minute, his aim no doubt hampered by the Haiti defender clutching a handful of his jersey.
Canada started looking to put balls behind the Haiti defence, with a pair of attacks denied by the offside flag late in the first half. At the other end, Pantemis did not have to make a save in the first 45 minutes.
A Buchanan free kick from a dangerous position just outside the penalty box went high in the 49th minute.
Haiti had a brief spurt of offence and Pantemis, finally called into action, had to be sharp to deny Dutherson Clerveaux in the 56th minute.
Jerome stopped Buchanan's header in the 62nd minute off a dangerous free kick from Michael Baldisimo. At the other end, Pantemis was almost caught out by Eliader Dorlus's swerving shot from long range.
Haiti came close again in the 71st minute after a poor touch defensively but the shot went straight at Pantemis. The Canadian 'keeper made his best save of the game a minute later to stop Clerveaux's diving header.
Buchanan scored both goals in Friday's win over El Salvador.
Haiti had a more chaotic start to the tournament in a 3-0 loss to Honduras the same day. It was forced to kick off with just 10 men on the pitch including an outfield player in goal after part of its delegation arrived late in Guadalajara, delaying some COVID-19 protocols. The team was able to get to full strength in the second half after tests came back negative.
Haiti had just five players on its bench Monday, with no backup 'keepers.
Biello made two changes to his starting lineup with David Norman Jr., and Theo Bair coming in for Callum Montgomery and Tabla. Montgomery was injured in the first game against El Salvador and was replaced by Norman at halftime.
The tournament is open to players born after Jan. 1, 1997. Teams that make it to the Olympics can field up to three overage players.
CONCACAF reported prior to Monday's game that two members of its officials pool had tested positive for COVID-19 and were self-isolating. Costa Rica's Juan Gabriel Calderon took charge of Canada's match.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021
The Canadian Press