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Can Canada get back to the World Cup?

Friday 11th November 2011
This weekend on the tiny Caribbean island of St. Lucia the Canadian National Team is looking to secure a spot in the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification, and all they need to get there is either a point in St. Lucia on Friday or a point against fellow minnows St. Kitts & Nevis next Tuesday in Toronto. Canada will almost certainly be heading off next spring to round three of CONCACAF qualifying barring an unmitigated disaster as they try and get back to the World Cup stage for the first time since 1986. If they advance past the third round they advance into the “hex” where they will be fighting for one of 3.5 CONCACAF slots for Brazil 2014 versus the Americans, the Mexicans, and most likely strong sides from countries such as Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras to name a few. The road for Canada has always been hard and it remains so. Yet Canada did have its bright moment on the international football stage once. And that bright moment just happened to be the first football match I ever saw.

I hail from a real small town in eastern Canada on the island of Newfoundland. And when I mean small I mean small. Less than 200 people call Little Heart's Ease Trinity Bay home. The only soccer I had ever seen when I was growing up there (and that includes on television) was the footy we used to play on the gravel parking lot of our local school.

Ice Hockey was (and for that matter still is) God there. I had never ever seen or participated in an organized football game on a grass pitch ever before 1985. At most I had only a very passing knowledge of the sport of football when I left home to start my university career. But my relationship with the beautiful game was soon to take a dramatic change of direction.

Just after the festivities died down after my first fortnight as a college man the next big thing happening in St. John's that fall was of course the final winner take all qualifying game between Canada and Honduras to decide on CONCACAF's lone qualifier for World Cup '86 in Mexico. At the time CONCACAF had two entries in the twenty four team tournament but as Mexico was host there was only one spot for the rest of North America up for grabs. There was arguably never a bigger sporting event that has ever taken place in that city before or since and I was determined to not miss out on the opportunity to see it for myself even knowing next to nothing about the sport.

So I got a ticket and went to the game with hundreds of fellow university students. There was reportedly just a bit north of 10,000 supporters in the stands that day at King George V Park in downtown St. John's (a city of just under 100,000 souls at the time). And the number in attendance was well above the then stated capacity of 5,000 fans that the ground could “officially” hold at the time. We were raucous and loud. We cheered and waved out flags and we passed around more than one hip flask of rum/whiskey to keep warm on what was a really nasty day with rain drizzle and fog on tap weather wise and a temperature just a few degrees above zero Celsius.

I have to confess that all I truly remember about the game on the field a quarter century on is that Canada scored twice and the Hondurans didn't, only scoring once in reply to the Canadians. I remember Canadian stalwart Paul James running up the pitch with the Maple Leaf in hand post game. I vaguely remember then nineteen year old striker Igor Vrablic scoring the winner mid way through the second half.

And I remember most of all myself post game raving about the spectacle I just saw on the field, the camaraderie I felt in the stands and the fact that Canada seemed at the time to a novice fan like myself a country that might start really making a name for itself in the biggest sport on earth. After all how hard could it be? In my first ever game Canada qualified for the World Cup!

Little did I know then that this would be the to date high water mark for Canada in World Football and that in twenty five years on our country has not had the same level of success. Nevertheless I left for home that day a convert to the sport, a convert to Canadian football and a fan of the beautiful game.

And for those that are slightly younger than me believe this. Canada CAN qualify for a World Cup. We did it before and we can do it again.

I know this for a fact. I saw it with my own two eyes.

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Tim Drodge is a Toronto Canada based blogger who writes about all things Toronto FC on his site http://viewfromthesouthstands.com. You can also follow Tim on Twitter @bgnewf
Tim Drodge
Tim writes about all things Toronto FC of Major League Soccer on his blog "The View From The South Stands"

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