Young players come off bench to help spark Canada to 2-1 win over Curaçao in Zambrano’s debut
By Matthew Gourlie
MONTRÉAL — If Octavio Zambrano learned nothing else Tuesday, he knows he has players on his bench who can change a match.
The new Canadian manager posted a victorious debut as Canada earned a 2-1 win over Curaçao in front of 6,026 fans at Stade Saputo.
After a tepid, if combative, opening 30 minutes, Zambrano’s came into the ascedancy the more the match wore on. It was Canada’s substitutes who helped lead the charge.
After failing to score on a trio of volleyed shots after making his debut in the 53rd minute, 16-year-old Alphonso Davies earned a penalty in the 86th minute. Junior Hoilett struck the left post with his spot-kick, but another substitute, Russell Teibert created a chance in the next phase of play and Anthony Jackson-Hamel scored the match-winning goal seconds later.
“In the second half the substitutes that came in made a big difference,” Zambrano said. “It’s encouraging to see that this team has a good group… that can come in and make a difference in any given match.”
The introduction of Davies let Junior Hoilett switch to the right flank and that seemed to spark the Canadians. Davies and Jackson-Hamel each took four shots, while Teibert added some energy. Mark-Anthony Kaye and Juan Córdova both made their senior debuts in the final 10 minutes and looked composed protecting the lead.
“(Davies) created the penalty. To see that a kid like that can come in and contribute that’s great,” said Patrice Bernier who captained Canada and earned a standing ovation when he was subbed out for Kaye.
“But also the players that came off the bench today: Russell Teibert came in and gave a little more energy to the midfield, and Jackson was Jackson. He comes in and scores. We had 12 players who are under 23. When is the last time Canada had that? Yeah they’re young, they don’t always play that many minutes, but you saw in the second half that they had confidence and they created a lot of good things.”
Canada dominated the second-half possession and finished the match with 19 shots. That wasn’t the case in the early going against a game Curaçao side.
“I knew that the first 20-25 minutes were going to be difficult minutes because these guys have come together recently,” Zambrano said of his side’s growing pains. “We weren’t going to click right away. As the game went on and the players settled.”
Zambrano believes they will get a more consistent 90-minute effort when they have a better understanding of what they are trying to do.
“I saw glimpses it: quick play, changing the point of attack, being aggressive and looking for the goal,” Zambrano said. “I can’t say I’m completely pleased about everything, but you can’t ask for more at this stage. We won and we, at times, played good football. We saw some young guys who can contribute. I think all of those are positives.”
Curaçao opened the scoring when Gevaro Nepomuceno laid a cross to Rangelo Janga who stepped back from the marking of Marjrekar James and blasted a left-handed shot past Milan Borjan. It was Janga’s third goal in four caps. The six-foot-five target man had 14 goals last season with AS Trencin.
Canada equalized before half when Curaçao keeper Eloy Room tried to go over Samuel Piette to claim a Will Johnson free kick and spilled it. James was the first to react and hooked the ball into the net.
Canada received an early let off when Jarchinio Antonia got on the end of a lay-off at the top of the area and lashed his shot wide of the right post.
Larin missed a similar chance on the same goal in the second half when Hoilett found him at the near-post early in the second half.
Canada believed they had gone in front when Teibert jumped and appeared to redirect a Jackson-Hamel shot while in an offside position after a flowing move that started with a Teibert run and was set up by another quality Hoilett cross.
“I was very pleased with the result and looking for more,” Zambrano said. “I am extremely happy that we earned that victory. It is always good to start with a hard-fought, but I thought deserved, victory. Our guys came out a little bit tentative at the beginning. We had to find the right synchronization in the midfield, but once we did I thought we performed better.”
While Canada was feeling good about their performance on the night, Zambrano is ready to get straight back to work to prepare for the start of the Gold Cup in July.
“We will enjoy this, but trust me. I’ve been at this long enough to know that it was a great first victory. I’m very proud of the guys and the way they played — they played with heart and determination,” said Zambrano who added that getting a first victory “defending the colours of Canada” meant a lot to him.
“But we must immediately be thinking about the next challenge.”