By River City
Leon de los Aldamas is a city of just over 1 million people in the state of Guanajuato, deep in the interior of Mexico. Founded in 1576, it has had a long and sometimes turbulent history surviving natural disasters, revolutions and occupations. Today, it boasts large factories that manufacture shoes, boots, belts, jackets and other leather goods earning it the informal distinction of being the leather capital of Mexico.
On June 1, 1986 however, it was the site of what is considered by many to be Canada’s greatest moment in Football history. On a hot and humid summer day, the Canadian Men’s National Team (MNT) faced 1982 World Cup semi-finalists and 1984 European Champions France for a 1600 hours showdown at the Estadio Nou Camp in front of 36,000 spectators. While many were expecting an attacking seminar by France against the World Cup newcomers, Les Bleus were faced with a determined Canadian team that was able to hold their own.
Coached by Henry Michel, France boasted a star studded lineup consisting of Joel Bats, Manuel Amoros, Patrick Battiston, Maxime Bossis, Thierry Tusseau, Luis Fernandez, Captain Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Jean-Pierre Papin and Dominique Rocheteau. Canada on the other hand coached by Tony Waiters featured virtually unkonwon players Paul Dolan, Bob Lenarduzzi, Captain Bruce Wilson, Ian Bridge, Randy Samuel, Randy Ragan, Mike Sweeney, Paul James, David Norman, Carl Valentine and Igor Vrablic.
The odds were clearly not in Canada’s favour, but as the game wore on, Canada was able to frustrate France’s attack and prevent them from raising their game. Unfortunately, a fairy-tale ending was not in Canada’s destiny and France was able to secure the two points at the 79th minute. That fateful goal 12 minutes from time sealed the victory for France, but it was not a superb finish that proved to the world the superiority of France over Canada. As eventual Canadian MNT Head Coach Bob Lenarduzzi summarized, “Even at the end of it all, their goal didn’t come from a flurry of pressure. The game was even at that point. We were going back and forth and unfortunately [goalkeeper] Paul Dolan, who had played very well, misjudged a cross and Papin had an easy tap-in.”
While France went on to win 3rd place in the Tournament, Canada lost 2-0 to both Hungary and Russia and left the World Cup without scoring a goal. Sadly, the Canadian MNT has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986, a fact which is disappointing as Canada has the potential to become a leading Football nation and an even stronger market for the sport. Despite its economic strength, political stability, social tolerance, cultural riches, natural resources and leadership role in technological research and development as well as an appreciation for sport, the current state of Football at the professional and international level is lacking to say the least. Amongst the members of the G-7 Group of nations, Canada is the lowest ranked member in international Football, the only one without a domestic league and the only one not to feature regularly in the World Cup. As of May, 2015, almost 29 years to that day in Leon de los Aldamas, Canada sits 114th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola world rankings, sandwiched between Azerbaijan and Namibia. To put things in perspective, Lybia, Iraq, Haiti and the Congo DR rank higher than Canada.
As Canada embarks on its 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, Canadian fans from coast to coast to coast will naturally have their expectations high. However, this is arguably the least talented and experienced squad in decades and those expectations will, as per previous World Cup qualification campaigns come crashing down. Canada has failed to make it to the Hex, the final CONCACAF qualifying round in the last 4 World Cup cycles, falling as if on cue at the third round on each occasion. The last time Canada was able to get to the Hex was for the 1998 World Cup qualification where it finished dead last with 1 win, 3 draws, 6 losses, 5 goals for, 20 points against and 6 points.
On June 11 Canada plays Dominica in Roseau followed by the return leg in Toronto on June 16 as part of a home and away series between a total of 20 teams in the second round of CONCACAF. The 10 winners will then be joined by Jamaica and Haiti for the Third Round of this year’s qualification process (August 31, September 8, 2015) which will also be a home and away series to produce 6 winners to advance to the group stage of the 4th Round where they’ll be joined by the top 6 CONCACAF teams (November 9, 2015 – September 6, 2016). That 3 group stage of 4 teams each will result in the top 2 teams in each group to advance to the Hex (November 7, 2016 – October 10, 2017). When the proverbial wheels fall off the bus somewhere along this convoluted process, instead of lamenting and navel gazing as Canadian soccer fans do every 4 years, we need to seize this as the last straw of an era of utter futility and incompetence by the CSA .
Change is coming.