Canada's rare hat trick | Soccer | CBC Sports

Canada's rare hat trick

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2011 | 11:57 AM

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Whether in Germany, Spain or on home soil, Julian de Guzman, right, has always answered the call for Canada. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press) Whether in Germany, Spain or on home soil, Julian de Guzman, right, has always answered the call for Canada. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

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It has been a while coming. Fifteen years to be precise. It was 1996 - a year in which football "came home" with England hosting, and failing to win, the European Championships, and the launch of a new venture in the United States christened Major League Soccer.

It has been a while coming. Fifteen years to be precise. It was 1996 - a year in which football "came home" with England hosting, and failing to win, the European Championships, and the launch of a new venture in the United States christened Major League Soccer.

It was the year a teenager from Brazil named Ronaldo and a young Argentine called Hernan Crespo finished among the leading scorers at the summer Olympics in Atlanta. Neither left with a gold medal as Nigeria twice came from behind to beat Argentina 3-2 in a thrilling final.

It was also the year in which Canada won three consecutive FIFA World Cup qualifiers, beating Panama and Cuba twice. It has never happened since, until now. Four World Cups have come and gone since Canada last registered a hat trick of victories.

As a result, Canada is bang on course to advance. A win and a draw from the remaining three games will be more than enough to see Stephen Hart's team win Group D and move on, as expected, to the third round of CONCACAF qualifying.

No big deal of course. Being a big fish in a tiny pond is something of a novelty for Canadian soccer, but from the outset this was a section Canada was always tipped to monopolize. In other words, while Canada is by no means the strongest nation in CONCACAF, it is also far from the weakest.

Try telling Simeon Jackson it is no big deal. The 24-year-old striker, who left Mississauga, Ont., as a teenager to try and make it as a professional in England, is savouring the moment. His Premiership minutes with Norwich City have been severely restricted, but Jackson has now scored four goals for Canada in this qualifying cycle.

Try reasoning with Ashtone Morgan his first senior cap was relatively meaningless. The 20-year-old left back has enjoyed a breakout MLS rookie season with Toronto FC and his consistency has led Hart to give the youngster a chance to prove himself on the international stage.

Try convincing Julian de Guzman that winning 50 caps for his country is not really a significant milestone. Whether in Germany, Spain or on home soil, de Guzman has always answered the call. Lest we forget he was the Gold Cup MVP in 2007 and his goal against Brazil the following year remains a thing of beauty.

Proud to wear Canadian jersey

Win or lose, and too many times in recent years it has been the latter, I have never spoken to one Canadian international, past or present, male or female, who was not at the bare minimum, extremely proud to pull on the jersey and represent their country.

Then there are the fans.

Fans who are, by and large, happy to see hockey's return but fans who would be ecstatic to see Canada qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. There are not enough of them of course and their collective dream, right now, is the stuff of fantasy.

There is evidence, however, to suggest their numbers are growing. The Canadian Soccer Association, together with its corporate partners, is doing a better job of identifying and communicating with its target market. Supporters' groups are also pitching in to raise the profile. Without the fans, the entire process would naturally be a pointless exercise.

The rules are different this time round. The expanded Stage2 round robin tournament has been of benefit to Canadian soccer. The team is more visible and more accountable, the marketers have something to get their teeth into, and the success starved fans have something tangible to follow.

Winning helps. Blowout victories over the region's minnows may do little to prepare Canada for the bigger hurdles ahead but it's better than carping about sterile, unconvincing performances. Hart's team is on a hiding to nothing, but in the world of international soccer you can only beat what's in front of you.

Players on board

There is no doubt the players are onside. I have spoken to several senior Canadians in recent weeks and the message is unanimous. Playing together regularly is making a difference. Individuals better understand their roles and responsibilities and there is nothing like winning to breed confidence in the dressing room.

At the same time no one is getting carried away. There is universal acceptance that surviving this preliminary qualifying stage is purely a means to an end. If, as is apparent, the squad has grown stronger in belief or in number as a result, it is a pleasant side effect in readiness for the road ahead.

Fifteen years on, history may repeat itself. Canada is likely to again meet Cuba and Panama in Round 3 of CONCACAF qualifying next year. A hat trick of victories at that stage of the process would be well worth noting.

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