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Belize playing for love of game...


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Belize playing for love of game

Little money to be made

Game 2 against Canada tonight



KINGSTON—Soccer stops at nightfall in Victor Morales' village. There's no electrical lighting — or running water — in the community of about 1,000 where the 21-year-old lives.

The slender Belizean works from time to time on a banana farm or helps his father, a truck driver. He makes about $170 a week from gate sales during his country's four-month, semi-professional soccer season.

"(People) work for their money, they work hard," he says.

Tonight, Morales and Belize take on Canada in the second of their two-match World Cup qualifying series (7 p.m., Sportsnet). The team will face the likes of Canadian striker Tomasz Radzinski, who's become a millionaire in England.

Morales, meanwhile, got his first pair of cleats six years ago. He started playing soccer at the age of 9, and travelled about 240 kilometres to practise with the Belize squad when it was assembled a few weeks ago.

Like the rest of the team, it's his first time in Canada.

"I like it here, but I love Belize," says the soft-spoken midfielder, whose first language is Spanish.

"It's not beauty that looks good, like a beautiful house and that, but it looks beautiful in a different way. The people are friendly, too. There aren't many cars, you can walk free."

The little money that players make from the sport helps in their tiny country next to Mexico and Guatemala. Its per capita income is less than $4,100.

"Food, shelter, clothing, the majority of us have them. But a house and a car? No," says head coach Anthony Adderley, an ex-military man who works as a grocer. Only the team's oldest player and goalkeeper have automobiles, he says.

"The rest have bicycles."

Forward Denmark Casey made 550 Belize dollars (about $380 Cdn.) every two weeks as a government soil technician before he recently quit.

"Jobs are about. You can get jobs. But you have poverty. You have people that, because they don't have education, it's hard (for them) to get a job," says Casey, who's from Belize's capital, Belmopan.

His teammates, who range from high school players to government workers and labourers, forayed into soccer as children playing on the street or in schoolyards, without proper boots or formal direction. "We are accustomed to what we call `play pop out' — meaning dribbling, and everybody is playing by himself," Adderley says.

So Belize's soccer federation has hired Ian Mork, an American, as a technical director who helps to teach players the systems and drills. "The raw talent is there," he says.

"Physically, they're very strong, and very gifted. We just have to work on their technical aspects and their personalities."

Belize has competed to make the last two World Cups, but was knocked out during qualifying rounds. It has fallen to 180th in FIFA's rankings.

They're almost certain to lose again tonight, after falling 4-0 in their first game here on Sunday.

The players still go into each match looking for a win, Adderley says, as proud tears well up in his eyes.

"To continue to play football at their age, you've got to love the sport, because you're not getting anything from it."

NO TRANSFER: Everton has turned down a transfer request by striker Tomasz Radzinski.

Radzinski, who has one year left on his contract with the English Premier League team, asked to be moved after the club only offered him a one-year contract extension.

Radzinski, in Kingston with the Canadian national team, declined further comment.

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Yes, it is a good article. I'm really glad someone took the time to explore this side of the story. One of the great things about the World Cup (and soccer in general) is how it allows us to experience other countries, especially the ones we would otherwise never think about.

I'm glad that Belize gave a better showing in the second leg, even coming close to scoring on a couple of occasions. I don't like blowouts when one team is so far superior, there just isn't any point.

And no chance of qualifying for the World Cup finals yet playing for pride and for the love of the game, does it get better than that?

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