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CP: Stopping Wanchope Key

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Stopping Wanchope a key for Canada


BURNABY, B.C. (CP) - Loping across the pitch, long thin legs churning and gangly arms flaying about, Costa Rican striker Paulo Wanchope looked like an awkward colt during practice Tuesday.

But looks can be very deceiving. The moment the ball arrived at his feet, Wanchope's movements became smooth and fluid. He eased past defenders then effortlessly launched a rocket of a shot into the back of the net.

Harnessing Wanchope will be one of the challenges Canada's national soccer team faces when it plays Costa Rica on Wednesday night in a do-or-die World Cup qualifying match.

A loss ends any hope Canada has of advancing to the next round of CONCACAF qualifying.

At six foot four and around 170 pounds, Wanchope is the straw that stirs Costa Rica's attack. He scored in a 1-0 win over Canada last month and had three goals in Saturday's 5-0 drubbing of Guatemala.

Playing a desperate Canadian team, at home in Swangard Stadium, Wanchope isn't expecting an easy match Wednesday.

"We have to see how Canada will come after us," said the former Manchester City star who now plays for Malaga in Spain.

"It will be a difficult game. They are home and they are a very organized team. We just have to play and concentrate from the defence to the forwards. We must be on our game."

Wanchope, 28, has scored 39 goals in 56 international games. He helped lead Costa Rica to their second World Cup in 2002 after a 12-year absence.

"He's unpredictable and gets you off balance," said Canadian coach Frank Yallop.

"He is very fast. His movements are quick and he's good in the air. We know he's a very dangerous player and have to be on top of our game to keep him quiet."

Talented enough to have played for three English clubs - Derby County, West Ham and Manchester City - Wanchope can also be erratic. He was considered a loose cannon while at West Ham and sometimes looks complacent or indifferent on the field.

Costa Rican skipper Jorge Luis Pinto praised Wanchope's recent performance.

"He has raised his level of play," Pinto said through an interpreter.

"It's very important to have that type of player, the type of player that scores goals."

While Canada is struggling not to sink out of the qualifying picture, Costa Rica also battled to keep its head above water.

The team barely scraped through the second round of qualifying following consecutive draws with Cuba and only advanced because it scored more away goals.

That resulted in American coach Steve Sampson being fired and replaced by Pinto, 51. He has coached clubs in Columbia, Costa Rica and Peru over 20 years.

Costa Rica also lost 2-1 to Guatemala and 5-2 to Honduras.

For a soccer-mad nation like Costa Rica, having a team knocked out early in World Cup qualifying would be like Canada failing to advance to the Olympic hockey tournament.

"There are a lot of comments from the people, from the press but we are used to it," said Wanchope."We are passionate about football. We have to live with that."

Guatemala leads the semifinal qualifying round with seven points from a 2-1-1 record. Costa Rica (2-2-0) and Honduras (1-0-3) are tied with six points. Canada (0-2-2) is last with two points.

Only the top two advance to the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Wanchope said his side is finding its game.

"When you play a lot of games the players gain more confidence," he said."Physically we improved and that's the key."

Many members of the Canadian team play professional soccer overseas, meaning they have to leave their club teams for international matches.

Wanchope faces the same dilemma, flying from Spain.

"It is hard," he agreed."There are many hours flying. When you play for a national team you have to sacrifice yourself. When you have the passion to go to the World Cup, you can do it."

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