TORONTO — Canada is 90 minutes away from the 2024 Copa America, with home-field advantage Tuesday when it hosts Jamaica in the return leg of their CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal.
Canada, ranked 45th in the world, downed the 55th-ranked Reggae Boyz 2-1 in a rain-delayed opening leg Saturday in Kingston, Jamaica.
The Canadian men are undefeated in a record 17 matches (15-0-2) at home since a 3-0 loss to Mexico in March 2016 in a World Cup qualifier at Vancouver. Canada last played at BMO Field in June when it tied Guadeloupe 2-2 in Gold Cup play.
Canada and Jamaica both trained Monday at BMO Field in weather far different than the opening leg. It was zero Celsius, feeling like minus-three when the Canadians took the pitch at around 4 p.m. ET.
The Jamaicans trained in the morning.
The Nations League quarterfinal winners qualify for Copa America as guest CONCACAF teams. The losers will meet in a single-match elimination play-in in March to decide the two final CONCACAF entries in the 16-team tournament to be hosted by the United States next summer.
Making the Copa America field means facing elite opposition from outside CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. It's something the Canadians desperately need ahead of co-hosting the 2026 World Cup.
The 10 CONMEBOL entries at Copa America feature seven teams currently ranked ahead of Canada, including World Cup champion Argentina (No. 1) and Brazil (No. 3).
"it's a very important tournament," said Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who scored the winning goal Saturday in Jamaica. "Inside the locker room, we know how much of a big tournament it is. Probably the fans in Canada, they don't really know the value of Copa America but for me in terms of passion and quality and intensity, it's probably one of the best tournaments in the world."
If all goes well Tuesday, the Canadian men will have their calendar set for the March (Nations League finals) and June-July (Copa America) windows. Biello said there was no word yet on possible games before the Copa America.
With Canada Soccer feeling the financial pinch, the Canadian men sat out the September international window and only played one match in October, a 4-1 loss to Japan.
Eustaquio, who plays his club football in Portugal for FC Porto, made his feelings clear about the Canadian schedule.
"It's hard to build momentum when all CONCACAF tournaments are outside of Canada," he said. "September we didn't have a (game in the) window. October, a game away … Obviously we enjoy playing more at home than away."
Jamaica will be without West Ham star forward Michail Antonio, who exited Saturday's game in the 21st minute due to injury.
English reports said Antonio had flown back to England for a scan with West Ham angry that Antonio played for more than 10 minutes after sustaining the injury and unhappy at the state of the pitch at Kingston’s Independence Park.
While the Canadians had more of the ball, the Jamaicans had their chances with Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey missing on three opportunities, hitting the goalpost on one. Jamaica coach Heimir Hallgrimsson said that Bailey was playing in pain, with stitches in his leg from a recent injury.
Interim Canada coach Mauro Biello said all of his players are available Tuesday.
Canada, Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica were given byes to the final eight of the Nations League. Panama, Jamaica, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago had to qualify.
No. 78 Honduras upset No. 12 Mexico 2-0 while the 11th-ranked U.S. blanked No. 99 Trinidad and Tobago 3-0 and No. 44 Panama downed No. 46 Costa Rica 3-0 in other quarterfinal first-leg action.
The U.S. moved on to the Nations League semifinals and booked its ticket to Copa America despite losing 2-1 in Port of Spain on Monday, advancing 4-2 on aggregate. The Americans were reduced to 10 men in the 39th minute when Sergino Dest was sent off.
Panama hosted Costa Rica in Panama City later Monday.
Honduras looks to complete the upset in Tuesday at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.
Canada has an 11-6-7 all-time record against the Reggae Boyz, clinching World Cup qualification last time they met at BMO Field in a 4-0 win in March 2022.
The team scoring the most goals over the two games moves on, with away goals counting double if the aggregate score is tied. If that doesn't settle things, there will be 30 minutes of extra time, with away goals not counting as double.
The final tiebreaker, if needed, is a penalty shootout.
The Nations League finals are set for March 21-24 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The two Copa America play-in matches, featuring the four quarterfinal losers, are scheduled for March 23 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
CONMEBOL did not announce venues for the rest of the event.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press