When Canada made it to the 1986 World Cup
Canada's national soccer team beat Honduras 2-1, won a trip to World Cup in Mexico
I was the biggest sporting event on the planet, and for the first time ever, Canada would be there.
In September 1985, in a raucous game in St. John's, Canada's national men's team beat Honduras 2-1 to clinch a spot at the 1986 World Cup soccer tournament in Mexico.
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.
For the 1986 tournament, 121 countries competed for 24 spots. In order to qualify, teams played a series of matches in their regional subdivisions. Canada was part of CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
17 nations competing for one slot
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.
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."
'A solid base for the future'
"From a Canadian perspective, we've given everything we've been able to give," said Team Canada coach Tony Waiters after the third defeat, according to a June 10, 1986 Globe and Mail report. "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."
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 would later rank 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.