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Forget Honduras (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the draw)


Forget whether Stephen Hart is the best choice as head coach. Forget whether David Hoilett will ever choose to play for his nation of birth. Forget all the ongoing, seemingly implacable worries about a lack of a proper youth development system.

The single biggest factor in determining Canada's chances of making the 2014 World Cup was always going to be how we made out in the qualifying draw.

See, here's the thing about getting to the big dance, for any country: You don't need to be one of the 32 best teams in the world. Not by a long shot. You just need to find a way to maneuver out of your continental qualifying zone through a combination of luck, good timing and yes, of course, some skill.

Canada has the skill to hold its own with the middling powers in CONCACAF. The timing is yet to be seen. But on Saturday, we finally got some good luck.
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The fact that we're suddenly ranked 105th in the world shouldn't throw anyone off. The FIFA rankings don't come on stone tablets from Mount Sinai; they're the output of some arcane algorithm devised by sporting bureaucrats. It's supremely arrogant (and is the sort of hubris that has bitten Canadian supporters in the ass on multiple occasions), but it's almost certainly true to say that despite the shared residency in the 100s neighbourhood of the world rankings, Canada has nothing to worry about in its first round of qualifying, against St. Kitts, Puerto Rico and St. Lucia.

The feces hits the fan (figuratively and, based on historical precedent, perhaps literally) in the semi-final round when, for the third straight qualifying campaign, we've drawn the bane of my existence, the Honduran men's national soccer team.

Naturally, my mind instantly crafted the hypothetical scenario wherein a hearty troupe of Canadian supporters is forced to endure the ignominy of seeing their squad eliminated from World Cup contention with a dispiriting loss on home soil, deluged on all sides with abuse (and possibly piss bags) from Honduran fans crammed into Stade Saputo in Montreal.

But after hyperventilating into the nearest paper bag for a few moments, possibly several hours, I came around to the conclusion being drawn by most other Canadian supporters: This draw was a good thing.

We've got Cuba, who were a joke in this year's Gold Cup, losing their games 5-0, 5,0 and 6-1. A few players defected to the U.S. and I'm sure Declan Hill's spidey sense was going off like mad during the whole tournament. But if some shady loser in a smoke-filled den in Singapore wants to pay off the Cubans to take the fall against Canada in 2014 qualifying, well, that'll just help balance the karmic ledger when it comes to dubious backroom shenanigans.

As for Honduras and Panama, we just need to be better than one of them to make the final CONCACAF group, a.k.a. "the hex". Sorry, let me rephrase: We don't need to be objectively "better" than them, since measures of quality can't really be applied to national teams, which play infrequently with continuously fluid rosters. So what I actually mean is: The roster we assemble for a brief period during next summer/fall needs to outperform the roster one of those teams assembled during the same time span.

That, folks, is distinctly possible. Canada was mere minutes away from a win over Panama in the Gold Cup (a result undone by turtling defensively and then buckling under the 20 subsequent minutes of sustained pressure at game's end). And, as you'll recall, our last result against Honduras was a 2-1 victory.

Let's say, for argument's sake, we go through to the hex along with, ugh, Honduras. That, most likely, sets up a final round with Canada, Honduras, Jamaica and Costa Rica scrambling for one and a half spots. The presumption here is, of course, that the U.S. and Mexico walk away with the two top spots.

Then we come down to what I've been saying all along: Canada's path to the World Cup comes in peaking at the right time, and being a little bit better than a few other middling CONCACAF nations during a very specific time period -- plus getting a bit of luck along the way. And learning to dive convincingly wouldn't hurt either.

While some may wish for a more glorious, triumphant narrative about how Canada could finally overcome decades of futility to reappear on the sport's glorious stage, the reality is that it won't happen that way. Not for 2014, anyway. A more realistic target might be 2034, if what you want is that sort of chest-thumping.

No, our chances of making to Brazil come through grinding, scraping, squeaking by, and hoping to get fortuitous bounces and decisions along the way. The path to 2014 isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was never going to be. At least we now know what it looks like.
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