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Mar. 25, 2005. 01:10 PM

Canadian goalie expects busy outing Saturday against Portugal in soccer friendly

NEIL DAVIDSON

The Canadian Press

Goalie Lars Hirschfeld knows what to expect Saturday when Canada plays star-studded Portugal in Barcelos in an exhibition soccer match.

``I think I'm going to be a little busy,'' the 26-year-old from Edmonton said Friday from the Canadian team hotel in Porto.

``But we should do OK. We've done well with the young guys. I think we'll give it a good go.''

They'll need to. The Portuguese are ranked ninth in the world, 75 places above Canada. And coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says his team won't be pulling its punches against Canada, with a key World Cup qualifying game against Slovakia looming Wednesday.

``While I'm coach of Portugal, there aren't any friendly games. I don't want excuses, I want victories,'' Scolari told reporters.

He has the offence to do it. Portugal has scored 20 goals in its five qualifying games. Pauleta of Paris Saint-Germain leads all European scorers with six goals in the group round, one more than Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo.

Canada's World Cup dream is already over. Coach Frank Yallop is rebuilding.

Yallop is 5-4-2 as coach, with three of those victories over also-rans (No. 181 Belize twice and No. 121 Barbados). In games that really counted, the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, Canada went 1-3-2 and was outscored 8-5.

Canada has not fared well in its last two friendlies against top-ranked opposition. The Canadians were thumped 5-1 in the Czech Republic in November 2003 and 4-1 in Germany in June 2003. At the time, the Czechs were ranked No. 11 and the Germans fourth.

Hirschfeld played in the Czech game.

``We did well the first half ... then we got buried the second half,'' Hirschfeld recalled.

With Pat Onstad having left the international scene, Yallop is rotating his goalies. Greg Sutton got the start in the recent 1-0 win in Northern Ireland and Saturday is Hirschfeld's turn.

It's a chance to reclaim the job he made his under former coach Holger Osieck. At the 2002 Gold Cup, despite having just two caps to his credit, he put on a shot-stopping show leading Osieck to declare Canada had found its next great goalie.

Injuries and lack of action at the club level have slowed Hirschfeld's progress somewhat.

At England's Tottenham, he found himself behind American Kasey Keller, a good friend who never missed a game. There were short loan spells with smaller clubs before he left Spurs in May 2004. He landed in Scotland's Dundee United that August, hated it there, and caught on with Leicester City in January.

At Leicester, a once proud club that has battled financial problems and a drop one level below the Premier League, Hirschfeld is backup to veteran Ian Walker.

Unlike at Spurs, where Hirschfeld and Keller used to make the most of London's music scene, Hirschfeld and Walker don't hang out together.

``He's an old dog. The older dogs usually hang out with old dogs,'' Hirschfeld said of the 33-year-old Walker. ``That's just how it is.''

The six-foot-four Canadian 'keeper doesn't much like the business side of his game — ``It really takes away from the game'' — but his head is screwed on straight. While other footballers drive flash cars, Hirschfeld still has the used VW Beetle he picked up while at Spurs.

Saturday's friendly comes four days ahead of Portugal's World Cup Group 3 qualifier at Slovakia. The Slovaks lie second in the group, three points behind Portugal with a game in hand.

Francisco Costinha and Nuno Maniche are likely to miss the Canada and Slovakia games through injury.

The Portugal game is not on TV in Canada.

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