World Cup memories: Canada-France, 1986

Former Canadian defender Bobby Lenarduzzi recalls his favourite World Cup memory: Canada's first-ever World Cup game, against France in 1986 in Mexico.
Bob Lenarduzzi played for Canada at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. ((Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press))

In an ongoing series, asked players, managers, broadcasters, journalists and fans to recall their favourite World Cup memories.

Next up: Bobby Lenarduzzi.

Lenarduzzi won close to 50 caps for Canada from 1973 to 1987 and also coached the national team from 1993 to 1998. A star defender with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Lenarduzzi represented Canada with distinction, playing for his country in a variety of international tournaments, including the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

But Lenarduzzi's proudest moment came when he played in Mexico at the 1986 World Cup, the only time Canada has ever qualified for the tournament.

Canada's opening game of the tournament was in Leon against France, the reigning European champions and a team that boasted such world-class stars as Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse.

The reality of what Canada achieved — qualifying for the World Cup for the first time — sunk in for Lenarduzzi as the players prepared to head out onto the field for the first-round game. It also provided the Canadian defender with his favourite World Cup memory.

"I'll never forget standing in the tunnel [of the stadium] prior to the game against France," Lenarduzzi told "To look across the line to see Platini, Tigana, Giresse — they were all players that I had watched play, and here we were going out to play them, and it wasn't a friendly.  It was a game that had something at stake."

In the searing mid-afternoon Mexican heat, the Canadians came out attacking against the heavily favoured France, and more than once pinned Les Bleus back deep in their own end. Canada came within a hair's breath of scoring on several occasions before France took control of the game and eventually scored in the 78th minute. It was a brave effort by the Canadians as the French escaped with a narrow 1-0 victory.

The fact that the game was so close was a testament to Canada's hark work.

"Prior to the game Mexican fans held up their fingers to indicate what the score will be," Lenarduzzi recalled. "They needed both fingers for France, they put up eight fingers, and we didn't have any, so everyone assumed we were going to get hammered, and the fact that we didn't … it allowed us to walk away with our heads held high.

Check back with next week for a full-length feature story on Bobby Lenarduzzi and Canada's 1986 World Cup campaign.