BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — John Herdman figured if Canada could weather an opening push from a revamped Suriname side, his team's quality would show through in a do-or-die World Cup qualifying match.
The Canadian coach read it right.
After a wobbly start Tuesday, the 70th-ranked Canadian men grew into the game with Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David dazzling in a 4-0 win over a Suriname team better than its No. 136 ranking thanks to a recent influx of Dutch-born talent with Surinamese roots.
The Canadian men came into the contest needing a draw or victory to win Group B and advance. While both teams had won their three previous matches, Suriname had an inferior goal difference and needed a win to keep its World Cup qualifying dream alive.
"We knew those first 15 minutes were a cup final for both teams," said Herdman. "We knew they were going to bring an intensity."
Suirname had a couple of early chances at an empty SeatGeek Stadium.
A Tjaronn Chery free kick from long distance forced a diving Milan Borjan to palm the ball away in the 11th minute. A minute later, Sheraldo Becker's shot hit the Canadian crossbar with Borjan beaten.
"We were wobbling," said Herdman. "The guys stayed in the fight ... We always knew if we could just weather that storm and bring the passion and stick to the process, then if we matched their level of intensity, our quality would shine through and I think it did."
David set up Davies for the opening goal in the 37th minute. Davies then returned the favour, playing provider on goals by David in the 59th and 73rd minutes. David completed his hat trick from the penalty spot in the 77th minute.
"I feel like we have that connection, me and him. It was good today," Davies said by way of understatement.
The 21-year-old David, who also had a hat-trick against Cuba at the 2019 Gold Cup, upped his international total to 15 goals in 14 games while Davies collected his ninth goal in 21 matches for Canada. Davies has four goals in his last three international outings.
Canada will face No. 83 Haiti next in a home-and-away second-round playoff that starts Saturday in Port-au-Prince. The rematch next Tuesday is back in suburban Chicago with the winner moving on to the final round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Herdman acknowledged his wife and others weren't happy about the trip to Haiti in a pandemic, with both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Canadian government advising against travelling there.
"But at the end of the day ... this is what's in our destiny and we've got control what we can control," he said.
That means extra security and medical help on the trip
"I think there's a good plan in place to keep people safe," said Herdman, who nevertheless suggested a neutral venue was warranted.
Davies broke the deadlock in the 37th minute. Taking a through ball from David, the Bayern Munich star outpaced defender Kelvin Leerdam to slot a left-footed shot through goalkeeper Warner Hahn's legs. Davies took his lumps as he scored for Canada, colliding with Suriname captain Ryan Donk.
Davies fed David in the 59th minute. The Lille forward left defender Shaquille Pinas in his tracks, beating Hahn.
It was more of the same in the 73rd minute. Davie danced past two defenders, kept his balance and unselfishly fed David, who turned and fired the ball past Hahn who was rooted to the spot.
Suriname's second-half collapse continued when Hahn took down substitute Lucas Cavallini in the box, following a fine through ball by Mark-Anthony Kaye. David coolly slotted the ball home in the 77th minute for his hat-trick.
David and Davies exited in the 82nd minute, much to Suriname's relief.
Haiti (3-0-0) won Group E by edging No. 147 Nicaragua 1-0 earlier Tuesday on a 63rd-minute goal by Columbus Crew winger Derrick Etienne at Stade Sylvio Cator in Port-au-Prince. Haiti outscored Nicaragua, No. 170 Belize and No. 206 Turks and Caicos by a combined 13-0.
Canada is 7-2-2 all-time against the Haiti but was beaten last time out, blowing a 2-0 lead and losing 3-2 in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Gold Cup in Houston. The Canadians had been unbeaten in nine straight meetings (7-0-2) before that.
The Canada-Haiti winner advances to the so-called Octagonal. No. 11 Mexico, the 20th-ranked U.S., No. 45 Jamaica, No. 50 Costa Rica and No. 67 Honduras got byes to the final round, which will see the eight teams play each other home and away starting this September.
The top three teams from the Octagonal book their tickets to Qatar 2022. The fourth-place finisher moves on to an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.
The Canadian men have not reached the final round of qualifying in the region since 1996-97 ahead of France 1998.
After fielding a split squad in Saturday's 7-0 victory over Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., Herdman unveiled a completely new starting lineup and formation featuring Davies, David, Borjan, Cyle Larin, and Jonathan Osorio.
Tuesday's starting 11 came into the match with 246 combined caps, with Borjan and Samuel Piette accounting for 101 of those. The starting 11 against Aruba, in contrast, had a combined 110 caps.
There was a senior debut for defender Scott Kennedy, a 24-year-old from Calgary who plays for SSV Jahn Regensburg in the German second tier. He started alongside Doneil Henry and Alistair Johnston in a back three that came into the game with 33 caps, with Henry accounting for 31 of those. Borjan captained the side.
Kennedy was impressive with Herdman calling his performance "as strong a debut as I've seen for this country."
Davies and Richie Laryea provided threats as wingbacks with Davies often moving inside, pulling Suriname defenders with him. David and Larin led the Canadian attack.
The Suriname starting 11 featured players plying their trade in the Netherlands, Cyprus, Germany, Israel, Turkey and Major League Soccer.
"We have experienced players but we have a young team together," said coach Dean Gorre. "The players know each other from football but they never played together. They only played a few games, a few sessions (together)."
Canada opened Group B qualifying play by dispatching No. 168 Bermuda 5-1 and the 194th-ranked Cayman Islands 11-0 before shutting out No. 205 Aruba. Suriname defeated the Cayman Islands 3-0 and Aruba 6-0 before blanking Bermuda 6-0.
Twenty-nine teams started the first round, with only the six group winners moving on.
Tuesday's game was officially a Canada home match but was moved because of pandemic-related border restrictions. An earlier 'home' game was played in Orlando.
It was the first Canada-Suriname meeting since 1977 when Canada won 2-1 in World Cup qualifying.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021