History was made, a moment glorious in its unlikelihood, at the Estadio Hidalgo in Pachuca this week when Canada faced England. Canadian goalkeeper Quillan Roberts wasn’t meant to be there. When a knee injury felled outstanding net-minder Maxime Crepau, his understudy Roberts was called to action between the posts.
It didn’t start well: after only five minutes on the pitch in his first game against Uruguay, he conceded the third goal in a heavy 3-0 defeat. England was next, and despite conceding twice, Roberts proved a hero in the net, making save after acrobatic save as England’s impressive attack, which includes Liverpool star-in-the-making Raheem Sterling, laid on heavy pressure. Then the almost unthinkable happened.
Down 2-1 with three minutes to go, Roberts collected the ball well inside his own half and thumped a hopeful drive up the field, seeking out the head of rangy striker Sadi Jalali. The field was wet from heavy rains; Roberts’ hopeful hoof skipped up off the Hidalgo turf, up over England keeper Jordan Pickford, and into the back of the net. “I saw the net bulge and I start freaking out,” the hulking Roberts told FIFA.com, disbelief still in his voice. “Everyone rushed back to celebrate with me and it was an amazing feeling,” he recalled as he huddled against the rains blasting central Mexico. The local fans, too, erupted in wild celebrations.
Roberts’ goal, the only scored by a goalkeeper in any FIFA football competition, earned the Canadians their first-ever point at a U-17 World Cup. It also leaves the side in a with a good shot of reaching the next round should they beat Rwanda - who prop up the group with zero points - in their last match on Saturday. “It’s a special feeling for me. It was just one of those lucky bounces,” said Roberts, who made sure to shake the hand of his opposite number, the despairing Pickford, and celebrate his good fortune with fallen mate Crepeau, his tournament over and his knee in a large, awkward brace.
It was one of those class moves that in no way surprised Canada’s coach, Scottish-born Sean Fleming who, in addition to creating a free-flowing possession-based unit, takes seriously the other part of his youth coaching responsibilities. “There are good young men in this team and it didn’t surprise me one bit that Quillan went over to console the England keeper,” he said. “It’s what this team is about.”
Roberts, a member of Major League Soccer outfit Toronto FC’s youth academy, along with six of his teammates here in Mexico, will be the first to admit that the team’s cohesive play – and not his fortunate strike – is what has them still alive with one pool game to go. In Kevan Aleman, the Canadians have a true playmaker, buzzing around between the strikers and midfield, hatching schemes.
“We have a great midfield,” said the Costa Rican-born No10, considered a big prospect for Canada’s footballing future. “We all understand each other perfectly well and we can all play,” he added, putting his finger on the obvious difference between this young side and the general perception of Canadian football as aerial in nature and built around pragmatism, determination and brute physicality.
Eager to get back to their mates and celebrate their historic night, Roberts, Aleman and Jalali – who scored the first goal in the game – began rush off to the team bus, before the goalkeeper remembers something, his face turning stern. “We’re not done here, though.” He said, his mates going quiet and serious. “Rwanda are going to be tough, so we need to be ready,” he said, surely imagining that four points will be enough to make more history for the Canucks with a place in the second round. “It won’t be easy but we’ve given ourselves a chance.”