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Montreal Impact fans are used to seeing Anthony Jackson-Hamel come off the bench to score goals but now he’s doing it for Canada’s national team as well.
Jackson-Hamel’s strike from 20 yards in the 87th minute, only seconds after teammate Junior Hoilett put a penalty shot off a post, lifted Canada to a 2-1 victory over Curacao on Tuesday night and gave Octavio Zambrano a win in his first match as coach of the red and white.
“It’s a lot of work that I’ve done with the Impact that I was able to put to use in the game,” said Jackson-Hamel, who had a goal called back 15 minutes earlier because teammate Russell Teibert was offside. “Now I can’t stop — every time I’m on the field I want to score.”
A disappointing crowd announced at 6,026 turned out to Saputo Stadium on Tuesday night for the friendly match that will help Zambrano pick his squad for the Gold Cup next month. Curacao used the match to get ready for the Caribbean Cup.
Canada is ranked 109th after a string of setbacks in recent years while tiny Curacao, which has fewer than 160,000 people, is 70th.
And in the early going Curacao looked to be the better team. They got the first goal from Rangelo Janga in the 43rd minute only to see defender Manjrekar James equalize just before the intermission for Canada. In the second half, the home side had chance after chance before Jackson-Hamel finally got the winner.
Zambrano called it “a hard-fought but deserving victory.”
“It was a great first victory. I’m proud of how the guys played. For myself, it’s the first win defending the colours of Canada, which means a lot to me, but we immediately have to start thinking about the next challenge.”
Zambrano doesn’t have a lot of time to pick his 22-man squad for the Gold Cup, which is disputed among countries in the CONCACAF region, but he got a good look at some top candidates against Curacao.
Among them was 16-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies, who made history as the youngest ever to play for Canada’s senior team and looked good doing it.
At just 16yo, Alphonso Davies is the youngest player in #CANMNT history pic.twitter.com/MzkjgB2Qfi
“He came in and made a big difference,” said Zambrano. “When we made the switch to put Junior Hoilett on the right side and him on the left, that’s when we really started to click.
“Alphonso has demonstrated that he’s ready. He’s a great addition to our team. It’s going to be difficult to keep him off the field.”
Curacao got the first goal when Gevaro Neponucemo collected a loose ball to the left of the Canadian area and slipped a pass through three defenders to a waiting Janga, who slotted it home in the 43rd minute.
Canada answered two minutes later as Will Johnson’s long free kick was mishandled by goalkeeper Eloy Room and fell to James in the penalty area.
The home side took over in the second half.
A glittering chance was wasted early when striker Cyle Larin missed the net from close range after a feed from Hoilett. Larin looked to jam a foot and was subbed by Jackson-Hamel a few minutes later.
Teibert was ruled offside when Jackson-Hamel drilled in a Hoilett pass in the 73rd, and blast from Mark-Anthony Kaye off a feed from Teibert was punched away by Room in the 82nd.
In the 87th, Davies was tripped in the area, but Hoilett hit the left post from the penalty spot. Seconds later, Samuel Piette,who had nearly 400 family and friends in the seats, caused a turnover and Jackson-Hamel scored from 20 yards out.
Toronto FC’s Rakeem Edwards was in the starting 11 to earn his first cap for Canada, as did Davies, Kaye and Juan Cordova.
“It was a good test for our team,” said Curacao coach Remko Bicentini. “It’s our first game in preparation for the Gold Cup but need to prepare for the Caribbean Cup first. We’re happy that Canada made this game happen.”