Canadian Soccer

Canada Corner: 'We are not far away'

                                            Photo by ISIphotos.com


"We are not far away."

With MLS on break and the sporting world focused on South Africa, there's no better time to recall Canada's lone trip to a FIFA World Cup and those words above issued by Canadian international and Toronto FC Designated Player Julian de Guzman earlier this week in Toronto.

The 1986 World Cup had 24 teams compete from five different confederations. The tournament sported the likes of the Soviet Union, Northern Ireland and first time qualifier Canada, all competing in the sweltering heat of Mexico.

In the months leading up to the tournament, the Canadians were granted the easiest of three semi-final CONCACAF qualifying groups playing Guatemala and Haiti. After getting through undefeated, they entered the final round of North American qualifying against Honduras and Costa Rica.

With just a single spot up for grabs (Mexico had qualified automatically as host), Canada entered the final day of qualifying level with Honduras. With the winner receiving automatic qualification, the Canadians staged the September qualifier in Newfoundland where temperatures dipped into the 30s. It was enough to rattle their Central American counterparts and secure qualification through a 2-1 win with Igor Vrablic getting the winner in the 61st minute. 


It was June 1, 1986, when the Canadians arrived in Leon, Mexico, for their opening game at the World Cup. They were facing a French side that had narrowly slipped into the tournament past the East Germans and Yugoslavia. But, with names like Michel Platini and Yannick Stopyra, the French were heavy favorites to cruise in the opener and easily move past the group stage. 

Player accounts described the scene as they bussed to the Estadio Nou Camp, Leon. 

"We were told we were going to get battered," starting defender Bob Lenarduzzi recently told reporters. 

Sources inside the team insist that Mexican fans lined roads to greet the little known Canadians with signs of disrespect and heckling. Many of them jeered as the Canadian bus inched closer to the stadium and they assumed the French would handle the Canucks with ease. 

With the smog filled air approaching 95 degrees, it was a stark difference for a team that eight months prior had played its final qualifying match in balmy St. John's, Newfoundland. Attendance for the 4 p.m. local time first kick was 65,000.

"I won't forget standing in that tunnel," Lenarduzzi told the CBC. "Looking and seeing Platini…they were all players that I had watched, and we were going to play them."

The game kicked off in scorching heat with the Canadians having their fair shake of possession in the French half. Team Canada even came within inches of opening the scoring with a few desperate attempts. With the game scoreless at halftime "it allowed us to walk with our heads held high," Lenarduzzi said. 

The French emerged from the locker rooms and controlled long spells in the second 45 minutes, eventually taking hold of the match and netting a winner through Jean-Pierre Papin 10 minutes from full time. 

"Everyone said we were going to get hammered," Lenarduzzi said. "We didn't."

It was an unforeseen scoreline that showed the Canadians could compete at the highest level and wouldn't give in to intimidation.

Playing in Group C, Canada would go on to drop its remaining two games to Hungary and the Soviet Union by 2-0 scores, avoiding blowout defeats but failing to tally a goal. 

Although very few Canadian reporters made the trip, Canadians were beginning to believe they were set to break into the footballing world. They had qualified for their first-ever World Cup and had conceded just two or fewer goals in each of their three matches.

Little did they know it would be their last appearance at a World Cup finals for three decades and counting.


"Seeing teams like Slovenia, Algeria and North Korea, teams you could almost categorize as being level (with Canada), shows we are not far away," de Guzman said.

However, the fact of the matter is that Canada needs to make the final round of CONCACAF qualifying before it can even think of showing up once again at a World Cup finals. 

With nations like the United States and Mexico always expected to coast through qualifying, it will be up to the Canadians to raise their level to that of Honduras and Costa Rica.

Although recent Gold Cup performances would have one believe Canada can compete with anyone in the region, in preparations for World Cup qualifying, Canada still lacks the quality to get results away from home.

The Canadian Soccer Association must get away from playing qualifying matches in cities that are opponent-friendly. Staging a qualifier against Jamaica in Toronto this last time around proved suicidal when about half the stadium was packed with yellow-and-black-clad fans.

The CSA learned that lesson once again when it decided to host Honduras in Montreal — home to the largest Honduran contingency in Canada.

In 1986, Canada strategically lined up each World Cup qualifier in a city in which it would have the majority of the support. Hosting Mexico in Edmonton was an example of that execution, and a 2-2 draw came of it.

However, only 14,000 showed up to that game, which is where another problem resides. For the CSA, very much is still about selling tickets as opposed to getting results. Until they CSA realizes that the venue is a crucial part of getting positive results, Team Canada will continue to struggle in qualifying for the CONCACAF hexagonal.


Do you think Canada is headed in the right direction? What do you think needs to be done for Canada to qualify in 2014?

Share your thoughts below.

  • Hokie_Futbol

    um de Guzman is awful. Possibly the worst DP in terms of value (and maybe ability). You can continue to just being an afterthought in CONCACAF Canada and maybe one day you can aspire to crash out of the hexagonals…


  • John

    Any other players in MLS won a player of the year award for a La Liga club? nope. Only De Guzman


  • Tony

    Canada is a looong way off. I dont see them as anywhere close to Slovenia or Algeria, let alone Honduras or T&T. They’re outside shots at even making the top 4, and if they make fourth they’d still have to off a Conmebol side in a playoff. Not gonna happen. If they see another WC by 2022 Id be absolutely shocked, barring an unknown raft of golden generation-type teenagers coming through.


  • Tony

    Too bad he cant win player of the year for an MLS club though isnt it? Heck, he cant even win domestic midfielder of the year for TFC…


  • ampf mexcity

    Can somebody explain why it’s a problem that Canada isn’t strong in CONCACAF? Why shouldn’t Caribbean and Central American countries have a chance to get the third slot? Is SBI posting columns agonizing about the Jamaicans’ or Panamanians’ chances of getting to the World Cup? It would meant more to nations like that than it would to Canada. What about El Salvador? When will they get their shot?


  • SaintJude

    I don’t know how far off they are, but having three MLS teams in Canada will only help their NT, just as it did for the US. I know they aren’t going to be dominated by Canadien players, but it will give local talent a place to play and hopefully grow interest in the sport in general. Similar to the US it will take time, but I think we can all see how MLS has helped out NT both with players who ply their trade there and for those who use it as a stepping stone to bigger leagues. Think about it, if Canada had a real chance to be in the World Cup, maybe Owen Hargreaves wouldn’t have jumped ship to England. His knees would still be crap, but when he was healthy he alone would have taken them to another level. Not sure about 2014, but I bet by 2018, if MLS is still thriving there, they will be in the run for qualification.


  • Sdbransonusa

    I personally don’t think MLS should have allowed any Canadian teams in the league. The league should focus on growing and bettering the American game, I could care less about any of our neighbors when it comes to soccer.


  • SaintJude

    I believe SBI is posting about it because his site has a focus on American soccer. Canada has three teams in the American made MLS so by association it is relevant.


  • Al17

    Bad Coaching. Canada has players good enough to get to the World Cup. I have no idea why Canada continues to find piss poor coaches for the National Team. It’s truly mind boggling. I’ve seen worse teams from a player personnel perspective go to a World Cup.


  • Johnny

    On paper they look good by CONCACAF standards. The majority of their players playing at a high level in the premiership, the bundesliga, the Eredivisie, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Turkey, with a few guys in MLS. They need a good coach more than anything.


  • PanchoMiguelMoralesdeConejo

    Like its called “Canada Corner”….if you wanted to contribute the “Caribbean & CAM Corner” that the 7 of us would read, I’m sure Ives would accept your drivel.


  • Al17

    What are you so damn hostile about? It’s a good question to ask when you look at the amount of money and the large number of people whom play soccer throughout Canada. Gheesh!!! Hell, soccer isn’t the # sport in Jamaica, it’s Cricket and for that matter the same in many West Indian countries.


  • SaintJude

    I see your point, but if they have the support and financing to maintain a successful team then it will help the MLS and the US soccer game overall. Rivalries like those being created in the Pacific Northwest and apparently between TFC and the Crew help build the league as well. I mean there is already a natural rivalry between the US and Canada just because we share a border. And for better or worse it is easier to demonize a foreign team rather than a domestic one. I’m a US fan through and through, but that said, long live Montreal strippers, maple syrup, and the hypothetical meeting of the two.


  • Reid

    I’ve never understood the thinking behind “Lets make a $XX,000 by selling out this stadium” when it comes to world cup qualifiers.

    From a pure greed perspective I would rather take less or no money for awhile and then watch as the cash comes in when the country makes the world cup.

    I don’t know if USsoccer loves the sport or they love the money more, but i’m happy they are settling for the boatloads of money down the road.


  • loves montreal

    I just went to Montreal for a bachelor party, and im trying to find reasons to go back already. Can’t wait for a Red Bulls v Montreal match!!!


  • Domagoj

    Thanks for wasting out time with this BS while we are in the middle of a world cup Kurtis!


  • Flagermunsen

    Other problems faced by Canada:
    – Lack strong sponsors
    – Foreign-based players commitment to National Team is ambivalent at times
    – Coaching carousel
    – BC should contribute substantially to NT; player development suffers because they insist on playing winter soccer
    – Best athletes play hockey (losing athletes not unique to Canada, but still a problem)
    – CSA is a disaster; needs professional management. Instead a good ole boys’ club
    – Too much British influence over the entire National and Provincial structure and footy culture


  • bubble burster

    I agree with Tony here. Canada is not even close to being as good as Slovenia or Algeria or even North Korea. I see the Slovenian team as having WAY superior tactics, technical ability and soccer savvy. I saw both of Slovenia’s games against Russia and they are a very well organized European team. Algeria is badly organized but athletic and enigmatic making them difficult to beat, too.

    Is Canada in the same league with New Zealand or South Africa? Those are the two teams that pop into my head when I think of comparisons at this WC. And considering how bad Honduras looked in their first game it becomes apparent how thin Concacaf really is.


  • CSD

    The only time they seemed to have played well this century is in the Gold Cup. It was interesting for them in 2000. They won the Gold Cup and had wins over Mexico and Colombia. Which earned them a trip to the Confederations Cup.


    Then they bombed out of World Cup qualifying with 2 goals for and 8 against. Maybe they should play all of their World Cup qualifiers in the US or just pretend every game is the Gold Cup.

    In their last 9 games since last summer they were 2-1-1 at the Gold Cup and since then they are 0-1-4.


  • jimoh8002

    yeah i went back to check and i realized that most of the candaian teams that are any good have USL american players on them even TFC is majority American


  • jimoh8002

    It wont at all. TFC is majority american and I dont see the other 2 coming up being different


  • stevo

    You mean the bench is majority american. Barrett and Labrocca are the only ones that regularly play


  • AA

    Canada will make the world cup in 2014 and have tons of talent, its hard when all the players come from different leagues. Once all three MLS teams are established it will only help. De Guzman, de rosario, friend, mckenna, and hutchinson would all make USA and prob. start most games.


  • Chris

    I think the US & Mexico are way ahead of any team in CONCACAF, but as the article mentioned, Canada only needs to raise their game to a “Honduras-level” or even El Salvador, just to get to the last round of CONCACAF Qualifying. If they can make it to the last round, then they certainly have a good chance to clip into that last spot if they play well enough. Getting only two points against Mexico, Honduras, and Jamaica in a home & home group in horrible. A country like Canada should be able to get 6 home points, and 3 or 4 away points from this group which would have given them 9 or 10 points where they probably would have advanced.

    From the looks of things now, and I’m sorry to say this, but Candada seems like they are falling further and further behind while other teams in the confederations are getting much better. But it’s OK, Canada is still the “Brazil” of ice hockey. And the Winter Olympics are their World Cup.


  • AA

    De Rosario is the best player in MLS this year and De Guzman will step it up he just isnt use to playing against avg. players every game he used to defending Real and Barca players who think and move a lot quicker. Also if Owen Hargreaves and Jonathan De Guzman both played for Canada they would have been a much better team.


  • Chris

    That doesn’t make any sense. So he’s used to Barca and Madrid players, that’s why he’s rusty on MLS players????? o_0


  • Felix

    Canada has a decent core of quality players, but they are poorly coached, rarely employ good tactics that play to their strengths, and do not have much depth.

    The talk of re-organizing the CSA is a start and getting more clubs into MLS helps as well, which will discover and develop more Canadian talent.

    Hire a quality coach (most important IMHO someone like Leo Beenhakker who can get alot of little talent), re-organize the notoriously lousy CSA, stop scheduling WCQ home matches in opponent-friendly cities, improve the youth development and Canada should be able to compete for the 3rd and 4th spots along with nations like Costa Rica, Honduras and T&T.

    There isn’t many nations in CONCACAF that have that have the potential to field decent-quality national sides, but Canada is one of them and the people who do care about Canadian soccer need to push them to the next level.


  • Chris

    It would also help Canada if CONCACAF gets another slot for the world cup. Instead of 6 African teams and three/four CONCACAF teams, in the future perhaps, 4/5 CONCACAF teams with 5 african teams would be better. But the success of CONCACAF teams will play a part in this. Other teams besides USA & Mexico have to do something in the World Cup/other international games. IMO, I think Costa Rica is better than several current World Cup teams.

    I think it’s in Canada’s best interest to hire a good coach for the LONG TERM (like a decade) to nurture the federation and build on it.


  • Kevin Smith

    Africa deserves their spots, it’s Asia that doesn’t. That said, there’s probably 10 European teams, who don’t make the World Cup, that are better than all but 2 CONCACAF (US + Mex) and 3 Asian (Jap, S. Kor, Aus)


  • Scott A

    I don’t think Africa deserves more spots. How do they have more spots than South America when none have gotten to a semi-final and South America has won a bajillion Cups? Everyone seems to have this fixation to see African teams break through


  • John

    With respect to CONCACAF getting more spots that’s not gonna happen. The best we can hope for is the 4th place playoff opponent being from Asia rather than South America.


  • matt

    having owen hargreaves, jonathan de guzman, and asmir begovic would probably help us get there


  • jmadsen

    “it will be up to the Canadians to raise their level to that of Honduras and Costa Rica. ”

    I dunno. For some reason, that just said it all to me.


  • overrated

    Who are the 10 European teams? Could you name them in order? I think that both the US and Mexico could qualify out of Europe. They way qualifying is set up in Europe the good teams never play one another. Instead it becomes who can beat San Marino by 10 goals.

    Also the Europeans have NO IDEA how difficult it is to play away in a place like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, etc. They don’t throw urine bags, batteries, and whatever else at opponents in most places in Europe these days and the lights don’t randomly go out at the home team’s convenience.


  • Chris

    I would sign for this right now.

    UEFA- 13

    CONMEBOL- 5 or 6*

    ASIA- 3 or 4**

    AFRICA- 5 or 6*

    OCEANA- 1 or 0**


    *6th place CONMEBOL plays 6th place Africa for 31st spot.

    **4th place Asia plays 1st place Oceana for 32nd spot.


  • Myles B

    All we need is more WCQ games in Edmonton in February. Take that Central America!


  • DeepM

    Why did you click on the link and read the entire article if you aren’t interested?

    Kurtis…thanks for doing the Canada Corner reports.


  • Brazilian Fan

    Just to remind you:

    UEFA (Europe)- 13

    CONMEBOL (South America) – 4

    AFC (Asia) – 4

    CAF (Africa) – 5

    CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean) – 3

    OFC (Oceania) – 0


    AFC X OFC – 1


    CAF don’t have 6 spots. One is the host nation!!!

    Well I agree with some of you. CSA needs to rebuild itself, they need a better coaching staff and the games should be where its better for Canada not for the rival.

    I trully believe that TFC, Vancouver and Montreal will help the National team a lot, even with a lot of americans and foreigners in their squad. It’s a opportunity to canadian players stay in the country and for another kids be discovered. Plus, FC Edmonton is coming in NASL next year. It will make 4 pro teams then.

    There is rumors about Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Victoria, Hamilton, Quebec City or Regina having NASL teams also. If at least one of them come up by 2012 or 2013, it will be 5 teams (5 academies + 5 cities “living soccer”). How cannot this help the Canada National team?

    Canada will be in Brazil by 2014 and not as a tourist. =]


  • Myles B

    I hope so. Most people, regardless of origin here in the Great White North, would prefer to support Les Voyageurs than their ethnic roots. Unfortunately, that’s hard when we’re only tourists!

    BTW, did anyone see the huge “Vancouver” Serbian flag the supporters had during their win over the Germans? Awesome!


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