Jump to content

Two worlds, two tournaments, two games


Recommended Posts

Don't know if this has been posted before??

Courtesy: Ben Knight

In a palace in Portugal and the cold rain of Kingston, the Beautiful Game rolls on.

On one side of the soccer world, England faces France before a packed house and a world-wide television audience in Lisbon's gleaming Stadium of Light.

On the other, Canada comes home for the first time in almost four years, running with Belize in a rainy, windy college football stadium in the Colonies.

The first game is a glamourous, high-profile event, the second far more humble. Every single player in Lisbon is a famous international star. In Kingston, the entire visiting team are part-timers. England and France are vying for the ultra-prestigious Euro 2004 title. Canada and Belize are beginning the two-year qualifying run for an even larger, most illustrious event - World Cup 2006 in Germany.

This is a small slice in a single day in the vast and virtually year-round world of professional soccer. And what a day it would become.

Right from the kickoff, the England/France game is a tense, tactical treat. The ball is diligently worked from end to end and back again, but always there's a deep sense of nervous anticipation. When, exactly, will the superstars shine? When will England captain David Beckham get a chance to unleash one of his fearsome free kicks? When will French striker Thierry Henry - likely the single finest scorer on the planet right now - freeze the English defense with one of his darting. harrowing solo runs?

In fact, Henry gets loose only once in the opening stanza, and runs out of room and options before he can seriously threaten the sanctity of the English goal. Beckham, however, gets his chance 37 minutes in, and his looping liner finds the forehead of Chelsea's Frank Lampard, who buries it in the French net before anyone can move to stop him.

England are up 1-0 at the half. Half-time commentators babble happily about France's goal drought at the highest level. Two years ago, as defending world and European champions, the princes of Paris went home early lacking even a single disturbance of the enemy net.

Across the gray, rolling Atlantic, a cold, inky rainstorm drenches the windy bleachers and slightly patchy playing field of Queens University's old and sleepy Richardson Stadium. Canada, full-time professionals to the last man, dominate play against their game yet sagging opponents. A crossbar is smacked early, but the goals are not coming. A sniff of possible disaster rides in the soggy air. For the loser of this two-leg confrontation, the World Cup trail ends before it really begins.

The rain slackens, and long-serving Canadian veteran Paul Peschisolido starts a long, darting run to goal. Years ago, Pesch was Canada's shining soccer future. Today, he lays the ball off to young Iain Hume, the brilliant Tranmere Rovers youngster who has inherited Peschisolido's hype. Hume concocts a brilliant forward sneak pass, magicking the ball directly into Pesch's path with the defense frozen and the goalie helpless. 1-0 Canada at the break, but the margin is narrow and the awful possibility of disaster and surprises have yet to be put away.

Disaster and surprise? England never knew what hit them. France utterly dominates the second half, but time and time again the famously suspect English defense turns them back. Once and only once do the French get caught. A perfect clearing pass hits Everton teen sensation Wayne Rooney in full cry at midfield. He can't outrun the French on the long way by, but he does force a nasty, late, scything tackle that gives Beckham a splendid chance to put the game away from the penalty spot.

But a perfect diving save from French goalie Fabien Barthez foils Lad Buckram. The French siege continues into stoppage time, with still no sign of Thierry Henry. But then, finally, fate falls perfectly for French captain and midfield menace Zinedine Zidane. Beckham's partner in the jewel-encrusted Real Madrid midfield doesn't need any help on his free kick. It bulges the back of the English goal for 1-1 at the death.

The death? Turned out that was still to come. In traffic, inexplicably, dazzling young England midfielder Steven Gerrard knocks a wobbly, fatal ball back to his goaltender - right into the path of an onrushing and ravenous Henry! James is forced to foul him. The crowd - both ways - is aghast. Zidane steps up to the spot, and no one had to look to know what would happen next. The great Zidane, injured and unavailable to play in the past World Cup, rips home his second goal in stoppage time. France wins, 2-1.

Canada, as it turned out, faced no such disaster. Second-half goals from Tomasz Radzinski, Kevin McKenna and Jim Brennan round out a fine and fair 4-0 win. Wednesday night's rematch should, now, be merely a formality.

In Portugal, 30,000 of England's famously rowdy travelling fans are stunned into inky, sombre silence. In Kingston, a damp and gallant band of Voyaguers (Canadian soccer fans' very apt name for themselves) are ecstatic. After almost four years, their boys are home. Not only that, they won - emphatically.

In terms of size, scope and ultimate importance, there should really be no reasonable comparison between these two contests. But what I loved most about this day was its global nature. Old World soccer at its most formal; New World soccer scrapping away in the wind and rain.

England and France played an amazing game, but the only prize on their table was continental glory in Europe. In the damp and humble soccer reality faced, on the same day, by Canada and Belize, the ultimate goal and glory was the footballing championship of the entire world.

There's no other sport that can stage a day of this scope and tension and contrast so convincingly.

... and it was a blast to behold.

Ben Knight writes about soccer and lacrosse regularly on Sportsnet.ca.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


"In the damp and humble soccer reality faced, on the same day, by Canada and Belize, the ultimate goal and glory was the footballing championship of the entire world."

YES the ENTIRE world. Man and to think it was on tape delay.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...