By TONY SEED
After some wonderful football (soccer) in the World Cup and the Olympics, it was painful to watch the Canadian men’s team play Honduras tonight in a qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The game was played in San Pedro Sula before 40,000 people, and it is extraordinary that they have not won a single match in Honduras since 1985 – 35 years – and are not likely to win another for the next 35 years.
The 2-1 score for Honduras flattered Canada; but for a number of stunning saves by Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan and at least four shots hitting the goalposts, the result surely would have matched its infamous 8-1 humiliation in Honduras four years ago. Borjan alertly came off his line repeatedly to intercept and clear dangerous through balls.
Nevertheless, the Canadian team played without conviction, discipline and cohesion, fitness and hustle; at half time they drew out the clock to the last second in a time wasting and arrogant manoeuvre only to come onto the field looking like the most bedraggled, sorry imitation of a national team. Which is what it is: something thrown together with professional players from this Major League Soccer (MLS) team and that, without any national style or character whatsoever – MLS lite.
Despite being coached since 2013 by Benito Floro Sanz from Spain, whose resume includes many years as a TV commentator, the latest edition still relies on the old English style of trying to run on long kicks down the field which, when Honduras launched swift and speedy counter-attacks. The tactic left wide gaps in the back field that the Hondurans freely exploited with their superb passing and deft footwork. The possession rate was indicative: after the first half it was 63 per cent for Honduras, with 8 shots and around 15 corners; for Canada it was a meagre 27 per cent, with 2 shots and 2 corners. (The game stats were not even shown: as soon as the final whistle blew, TSN – true to character – immediately scrapped the broadcast to feature a replay of the last US NFL Super Bowl.)
The FIFA World Cup qualifiers for North America, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) are played in a two tier system. First, in the group stage, 12 teams are divided into 3 groups of 4. The teams in a group play each other twice and then the top 2 teams in each group will advance to the next round of qualifying which is known as the Hex. The six teams in the Hex will play another round robin. The top 3 teams after the round robin will advance to Russia 2018. The 4th ranked team will battle it out with an Asian team for the final spot in the World Cup.
Canada was 3rd in their group and thereby would not qualify for the Hex. The Canadians return to Vancouver on Tuesday for a game against El Salvador at B.C. Place Stadium needing a victory and Honduras to lose in Mexico by enough goals for Canada to move ahead to the next qualifying round on goal difference. Fat chance: if I am not mistaken, the goal difference to make up is minus five.
Honduras qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil while the last (and only) time Canada qualified for a World Cup was the 1986 edition held in Mexico.
At that time, Canada could not score a single goal in its four matches (well, Bronco Šegota famously hit a post). This round, Canada earlier beat Honduras in Vancouver 1-0; the ball went in off striker Cyle Larin’s rear end — an accident.
This performance belies the Craig Forrest school of racist rationalizations as to why Canada cannot win in Central America, according to which the national team is forever overwhelmed by external factors: the temperature and the Latin American fans oppressing the visiting players from the Great White North.
The sports media, part of the annexed private sports empires, promote a variant of Reagan’s “trickle down” theory. According to this spurious theory, the greater that sport is commercialized, monopolized and integrated with the supra-national United States cartels controlling professional football, basketball, hockey and baseball – where the athlete is bought and sold as an instrument, as a commodity, as a thing, as an animal – the more that Canadian youth will be inspired to take up and excel in this or that sport. The few outstanding Canadian athletes presently competing in these leagues is then cited as “proof” of the trickle theory. But isn’t it interesting and paradoxical that the Canadian women’s national team that captured the bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics as it did in London is now ranked 4th in the FIFA world rankings, yet there is not a single women’s professional team in Canada? Such is the trickle that the men’s team ranked 122 in August 2014 and as of August 11, 2016 ranked 100th.
This chart illustrates the steady decline of Canadian men’s football team in FIFA rankings.
– Tony Seed, revised and updated from a Facebook post with files from news agencies