TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CANADIAN SOCCER
By Greig Dymond
I've spent a lifetime cheering for Canada in international soccer. And I don't have a lot to show for it. Let me assure you, this isn't one of those cute, fan-attaches-self-to-loveable-loser situations that sprung up around the 1962 New York Mets, the 1977 Toronto Blue Jays, and the Jamaican bobsled team.
No, this is often just a flat-out depressing relationship - propelled by a mix of masochism and my (perhaps misguided) patriotic desire to see Canada excel in the only truly global sport. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Keir Dullea spends an inordinate amount of time alone, floating around aimlessly; sometimes, that's how I feel supporting Canada. It can be a lonely pursuit, as I discovered at a packed Varsity Stadium in 1993, during a World Cup qualifying match against Mexico. Although we were smack-dab in the middle of downtown Toronto, it felt like an away match. Thousands of Mexican supporters danced the afternoon away as the "visitors" racked up a 2-1 victory. I was one of perhaps 500 disoriented supporters of the Canadian side.
And every four years, the ultimate soccer showcase rolls around to remind us of our perennial wallflower status. Once again, we haven't qualified for the biggest sports event on the planet.
As the World Cup unfolds in Germany, here are 10 things you should know about Canadian soccer:
1) Where does Canada rank as a soccer nation?
At best, we're a middling force. The latest FIFA world ranking places Canada's national men's team at #83. Chant it together now, sing it out from the highest hilltops: "We're Number 83! We're Number 83!" Togo, the lowest-ranked team to qualify for this year's World Cup, is #61. That's right. Togo - with its population of 5.5 million people - is 22 spots ahead of us.
2) Why isn't Canada in the 2006 World Cup?
The short answer is, we flamed out of the CONCACAF (a.k.a., North and Central America) regional semi-finals in spectacular fashion, winning just one match out of six against Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras.
Canada's first two games were particularly soul-crushing results at home - early indicators that the World Cup qualifying process would, yet again, end in heartbreak.
First, a 2-0 loss to Guatemala in Burnaby. Losing to Guatemala at home isn't really the best way to convince anyone that you belong in a showcase of the world's soccer elite.
Then, in Canada's second game - a disastrous 1-1 draw against Honduras in Edmonton - a dubious call against defender Mark Watson enabled the visitors to equalize on a penalty kick in the 88th minute. In the final seconds, an apparent winning goal by the home side was nullified because of another questionable foul.
Balloon deflated. Hope vanquished.
3) Has Canada ever qualified for the World Cup?
Once. The Canadians lost three straight games in the 1986 tournament in Mexico, and went home without scoring a goal. The 1,000-to-1 longshots scored a significant moral victory against France, holding the legendary Michel Platini and his teammates scoreless until the 79th minute. After his side's 1-0 win, Platini confessed, "We were doubting ourselves a bit after the first half. We knew that Canada had nothing to lose." He was right; Canada proceeded to lose 2-0 to both Hungary and the USSR. Twenty years later, the match with France remains our sole World Cup highlight.
4) Do Canadians even enjoy watching soccer?
There is massive interest in soccer in Canada; there just isn't massive interest in the Canadian national men's soccer team.
5) Who is the most famous Canadian soccer player of all-time?
Probably Owen Hargreaves, the Calgary-born midfielder who plays for German powerhouse Bayern Munich. Due to his parentage, he could have chosen to play internationally for Canada, England or Wales. Despite spending his formative soccer years on a junior team called Calgary Foothills FC, Hargreaves decided in 2001 to suit up internationally for England, not Canada. Perhaps this was the right decision; he's now a member of England's World Cup roster.
Other contenders: Brian Budd played with a host of teams in the North American Soccer League between 1974 and 1980, including the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Toronto Blizzard. He also played internationally for Canada. His fame, however, had little do with soccer; it was the result of his multi-year dominance of a 1970s TV competition called Superstars, which saw him run, sprint and swim against other (better-known) pro athletes.
Craig Forrest: Goalkeeper played in 56 matches for Canada; also played in England for Ipswich Town and West Ham United.
Charmaine Hooper: All-time Canadian women's leader in games played for national team (124) and goals scored (64).
Bob Lenarduzzi: A member of Canada's 1986 World Cup squad; subsequently a constant presence on our soccer radar, as a coach of national squad (1993-1997) and more recently as a television commentator.
Tomas Radzinski: Currently a striker for Fulham in English Premiership; used to play for Everton.
Christine Sinclair: 22-year-old forward, well on her way to becoming the best-ever Canadian woman player. Made FIFA's 2005 short list for women's player of the year. Already second all-time in goals scored for national team.
Longshot contender: Steve Nash. Well, he is famous, he is Canadian and he's played soccer. In fact, he was once judged the best high school player in British Columbia. Plus, his dad played pro soccer in South Africa and his brother Martin has earned several caps for our national team. Unfortunately, Nash decided to forsake the sport to become the NBA's Most Valuable Player. The rest is Canadian soccer non-history.
6) What is the greatest Canadian soccer moment of all-time?
THE MEN: Apart from the aforementioned noble defeat against France in the 1986 World Cup, it's got to be the 2000 Gold Cup tournament - the men's team's first win in a significant international competition included victories over non-slouches Mexico, Colombia and Trinidad-Tobago. The victory appeared to augur well for a solid run at qualifying for the 2002 World Cup; it didn't.
THE WOMEN: On the women's side, the highlight reel runs a lot longer. It includes a second-place finish at the 2002 Women's World Under-19 Championship (a remarkable run that ended in a 1-0 overtime loss to the U.S. in front of more than 47,000 rabid fans in Edmonton); a second-place finish in the 2002 Women's Gold Cup; fourth-place at the 2003 Women's World Cup and virtually any time Christine Sinclair touches the ball.
7) What is the worst Canadian soccer moment of all-time?
The men's team's 8-0 loss against Mexico in the 1993 CONCACAF Gold Cup must rank as the all-time low. Eight-goal margins of victory are rare in hockey; they are almost unheard-of in soccer.
8) What does Canadian singer Nelly Furtado have to do with soccer?
Two years ago, as Portugal hosted the Euro 2004 soccer tournament, Furtado released Forca, the official theme for the Portuguese team. (Sample lyric: "It is the soundtrack of your ever-flowing life/ It is the wind beneath your feet that makes you fly/It is the beautiful game that you choose to play/When you step out into the world to start your day.")
"They asked me to write a theme song for the team," the Portuguese-Canadian singer explained at the time. "'Forca' means kickass, go for it, woo-hoo! - that kind of thing. Soccer's a beautiful game, and there's a romantic nature to it that I wanted to capture."
Pop stars record soccer-themed ditties all over the globe. In 1990, electronica pioneers New Order released England's World Cup theme, World in Motion - a tune that featured an off-kilter (yet oddly appealing) rap by Liverpool midfielder John Barnes.
Sadly, this practise hasn't taken hold in Canada: Furtado has yet to record a song in honour of the Canadian men' s soccer squad.
Neither has Gordon Lightfoot, The Tragically Hip or Avril Lavigne.
9) How does Canada compare with the U.S.A. in international soccer?
In the FIFA world rankings, the U.S. men's team is at #5 - probably an overestimation of their talent, but a clear indication that their star is shining a lot brighter than ours. They will be in Germany, competing in Group E against Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic.
It's easy to forget that in 1986, Canada made it through the CONCACAF group to qualify for the World Cup; the U.S. didn't.
In the past 20 years - largely because of the massive impact the 1994 World Cup had on U.S. soccer's infrastructure - the Americans have become increasingly credible on the international stage.
10) Will the Canadian men's team qualify for the 2010 World Cup?
The historical obstacles are still there: the lack of a viable domestic pro league, home grown soccer's inability to resonate with Canadian audiences, daunting travel considerations that make it difficult for players on European sides to nip across the Atlantic to represent their home and native land.
Still, on May 19, Canada's men's under-20 team scored a historic victory over Brazil, 2-1. It was the first time any Canadian men's team had defeated the legendary soccer nation. Perhaps there is hope.
Having watched that Canada-France match on TV in 1986, I can verify that it would be awfully nice.
Greig Dymond is the Senior Producer of CBC Arts Online. In the 1980s, he played soccer - as a rather tepid, ineffective forward - for both the University of King's College and Lincoln College, Oxford.
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