Canada took on the world at 2001 Confederations Cup
After its Gold Cup success, Canada travelled to Asia as CONCACAF champions.
The mid-1980s represented a golden era in international soccer for Canada.
The Canadian national team followed up its strong showing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics — when it reached the quarter-finals and took Brazil to a penalty shootout — by winning the CONCACAF Championship to qualify for the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
Mexico marked a milestone for Canada's national team, one that wouldn't be equalled for another 14 years when it won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, thus earning the right to compete at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup in Asia.
Canada's Gold Cup success, secured with a 2-0 upset win over Colombia in the final in Los Angeles, allowed the Canadian team to stamp its passport for Japan where it competed at a FIFA-sponsored event for only the second time in its history.
Jason de Vos scored four goals in 49 appearances and served as captain of Canada for five years, and was a major figure in the ascension of the national team during the turn of the century, which culminated with its participation at the Confederations Cup.
"It was a great experience. The entire Gold Cup run and the Confederations Cup tournament that followed was the highlight of my international career and something that I'm always going to look back on with a lot of pride," de Vos told CBCSports.ca.
Canadian coach Holger Osieck brought a young team to Japan, including current Toronto FC stars Dwayne de Rosario and Jim Brennan, giving his players a golden opportunity to test themselves against some of the top national teams in the world.
"It meant a great deal to us because it was a rare chance for the men's team to compete at a FIFA event. It was a tremendous opportunity for us to gain some valuable experience at the international level," de Vos said.
De Rosario echoed his former captain's sentiments.
"It's not every day that Canada gets the chance to play in big tournaments, and that was one that was a great experience for us," stated De Rosario. "Going there to play against teams such as Cameroon, Brazil and Japan, that was tremendous, and to be there with a great bunch of guys, and experiencing a different culture was great."
Indeed, the team took full advantage of its time off between games and training sessions, exploring the Japanese countryside, riding the famous bullet trains, and interacting with local residents.
They also experienced a bit of culture shock when they checked into their hotel rooms.
"I can remember sitting on the toilet and there were all these buttons on the side and I was trying to figure out what they were," de Vos explained.
"I pushed a red button and the toilet seat began to heat up. Straight away I called my wife and told her, "You're not going to believe what they have over here. Best invention ever. Can you imagine a cold Canadian winter with heated toilet seats?"
Fans' expectations were running high ahead of the Confederations Cup in the aftermath of Canada's Gold Cup victory the year before, but "Holger's Heroes" stumbled out of the gate, dropping a 3-0 decision to hosts Japan in their opening game of the tournament.
Few gave Canada much of a chance against Brazil in their next contest, but thanks to some resolute defending, de Vos and his teammates pulled off the shocker of the tournament, earning a 0-0 draw against a Brazil side that kept coming at them.
"I don't think I got outside the 18-yard box," joked de Vos. "It wasn't even their A-team, it was their B-listers, but they were just exceptionally talented. We were just dealing with wave after wave of attack from Brazil."
De Rosario only came into the game in the 84th minute as a substitute, but recalled being run ragged by the South Americans.
"I just remember running non-stop. They were a world-class team, the way they moved the ball around and the way they play with such a flow and rhythm, it was so special to play against them," De Rosario said.
Canada lost 2-0 to Cameroon in its next game to bow out in the first round, but the team gave soccer fans back home a memory they will never forget by holding Brazil, who a year later won its fifth World Cup, off the scoreboard for 90 minutes.
Even today, eight years after the fact, de Vos wonders at how he and his teammates managed to earn a draw against the mighty Brazilians.
"You look back on it and you think to yourself, "Wow, it really was something amazing. At the time you don't think that, though — you just think this is a game against a team that is exceptional and we're going to have to raise our game if we're going to get a result," said de Vos.
"Despite the fact they enjoyed 80 per cent of the possession, we battled and fought like crazy. Even though they didn't have a lot of their star players at the time, like Ronaldo, it was still a tremendous result for us."
Less than two weeks after they arrived, the Canadian team boarded a plane to return home, having failed to win a game — or even score a goal — in Japan.
Still, despite the team's failure to build on its Gold Cup success, de Vos looks back at the 2001 Confederations Cup with a great deal of pride.
"It was a phenomenal experience for us as a country, as a national team, and it's something I'll never forget," said the former Canadian captain.