CBC Digital Archives

Canada cracks the World Cup

It's been called "the beautiful game." Soccer, the most popular sport in the world, draws an unwavering devotion from its fans. Yet soccer as a spectator sport has never quite caught on in Canada, despite growing youth participation rates and a series of professional leagues. Still, we've had star players and tasted World Cup play, and many immigrant communities have imported their passion to Canada. CBC Archives looks at soccer in the Great White North.

It's the biggest sporting event on the planet, and for the first time ever, Canada will be there. In September 1985, in a raucous game in St. John's, Canada's national team beat Honduras 2-0 to clinch a spot at the 1986 World Cup soccer tournament in Mexico. But the team is struggling financially, and the Canadian public seems largely indifferent to the event and the game itself. On the eve of the World Cup, CBC's The Journal looks at the uphill battle of Canada's "Team Hopeful."
. In 2002, an estimated 1.1 billion viewers in 213 countries watched the final match of the World Cup. According to FIFA, each match averaged 352.6 million viewers and the cumulative total audience for all games was 28.8 billion. These numbers made the 2002 World Cup the most widely viewed TV event in history.
. By comparison, a projected 150 million people worldwide were expected to watch football's Super Bowl in 2006. Of those, about 141 million were in the United States.

. The World Cup of soccer takes place every four years in different locations around the globe. It is administered by FIFA (la Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the world's governing body for soccer.
. The first World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay, whose team also won the tournament. The event was cancelled in 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War.
. Brazil has captured five World Cups - more than any other country -- winning in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002.

. Canada first competed for a place at the World Cup in 1958, and again in 1970, 1974, 1978 and 1982, failing to qualify each time.
. In 1986, when Canada first qualified, 121 countries competed for 24 spots in the final tournament.
. In order to qualify for the tournament, teams play a series of matches in their regional subdivisions. Canada plays in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

. Two slots in the 1986 final were allotted to CONCACAF teams. Host nation Mexico automatically claimed one, leaving 17 nations to fight for the other.
. In its qualifying games, Canada had a record of five wins, zero ties (or draws, as they're called in soccer), and three losses. Listen to a CBC Archives clip in which Team Canada coach Tony Waiters reflects on his team's achievement and obstacles.

. Canadian players were unaccustomed to the demands of playing in the oxygen-thin air of high altitudes such as those in Mexico. To prepare for this, some of them did extra training in Colorado Springs. Defender Ian Bridge, who usually played with a Swiss team, temporarily relocated to a site in the Alps to condition himself for high-altitude play.

. "Canada is already a winner," read the 1986 World Cup program. "That coach Tony Waiters and his players have overcome so many obstacles to qualify is itself significant. Any success gained in Mexico will be a bonus to that achievement."
. Canada played three games in the World Cup final, against France, Hungary and the Soviet Union. It lost all three games (by 1-0, 2-0 and 2-0, respectively), failing to score a single goal.

. "From a Canadian perspective, we've given everything we've been able to give," said Team Canada coach Tony Waiters after the third defeat. "In this World Cup, that was not enough to win a game or score a goal. But I think we have a solid base for the future. We realize what we have to do to improve as a country." (Globe and Mail, June 10, 1986)
. Canada has never again qualified for the World Cup (as of 2006).

. In February 2000, Team Canada scored a stunning upset when it won the Gold Cup, the CONCACAF championship. Ranked 85th going into the tournament, Canada defeated 10th-ranked Mexico in the quarter-final and went on to beat Colombia in the final to claim the championship.
. Canadian soccer historian Colin Jose ranked the win the greatest triumph in Canadian soccer history. The second-greatest was the match against Honduras that cemented Canada's place in the 1986 World Cup.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: May 30, 1986
Guest(s): Steve Armitage, Paolo Bordino, Vince Macchio, George Pakos, Randy Ragan, Jim Taylor, Bruce Wilson
Reporter: Jerry Thompson
Duration: 10:32
World Cup Qualifying Game footage: Molson's Breweries Ltd.

Last updated: January 27, 2014

Page consulted on January 27, 2014

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