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Standing on guard - Neil Davidson

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Standing on guard

Canucks prepare for Spanish




Canada's national selection players work out during a training session in Torrelavega, Spain, Thursday Sept. 1, 2005, for an upcoming friendly soccer match against Spain. (AP Photo/Juan Manuel Serrano)

(CP) - Spain has turned to Real Madrid and Liverpool for its big money goalies for Saturday's friendly soccer game in Santander on Saturday.

Canada turned to FC Boden for Kenny Stamatopoulos. For those who don't follow Sweden's second-tier league, Boden is some 750 kilometres northeast of Stockholm near the Finnish border and Stamatopoulos has one Canadian cap - actually 45 minutes worth - to his credit.

But ask Stamatopoulos about star Spanish goalies Iker Casillas (Madrid) and Jose Manuel Reina (Liverpool) and the 26-year-old from Markham, Ont., brushes aside any David versus Goliath talk.

"We know what kind of team Spain is," Stamatopoulos said from the Canadian team hotel. "We just have to focus on ourselves. We can't focus too much about the superstars and their names.

"Obviously it's an exciting game to play. Everyone would love to play this kind of game. You've just got to look at it as an ordinary game, I guess."

But eighth-ranked Spain is anything but ordinary with a star-studded roster full of familiar names: Raul Gonzalez and Michel Salgado (Real Madrid), Carlos Puyol (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia and Fernando Morientes (Liverpool) and Asier Del Horneo (Chelsea) to name a few.

And Spain has a reason to take the game very seriously. Four days later, the Spaniards take on Serbia and Montenegro in a crucial World Cup qualifying game. Spain (3-0-4) holds a one-point edge over the Serbs (3-0-3) in Group 7.

Stamatopoulos got the call from Canadian manager Frank Yallop in part because the Montreal Impact asked to hang on to No. 1 Greg Sutton for help during their final drive in the USL season.

Former No. 1 Lars Hirschfeld elected to stay with his new club Tromso in Norway. Plus Mike Franks of the Vancouver Whitecaps was injured.

Enter Stamatopoulos, plus former Canadian under-20 'keeper Josh Wagenaar.

Ask Stamatopoulos about his debut for Canada and it's all a little fuzzy.

"I can't remember when it was, 2002 or 2003?"

November 2001, he is reminded.

"Was it?," he said incredulously. "Oh my."

Stamatopoulos came in for the second half of a friendly in Malta, replacing Hirschfeld. It was 1-1 at the time.

Winning his first cap was fun. The result wasn't as Canada lost 2-1.

That was 33 Canadian internationals ago. Stamatopoulos has been invited to camps and served as a backup since, but has not seen any action.

He has wondered why, pointing to games against the Czech Republic and Ireland just three days apart in November 2003. Stamatopoulos was backup to Hirschfeld.

"I didn't get involved at all, which I though I should have," he said.

And he acknowledges be thought he may not be wanted, "because I haven't been called for a while.

"So it was a surprise to me, a delightful surprise to tell you the truth."

Since his national team debut, Stamatopoulos left Kalamata in Greece for Scandinavia and Nykoping in 2003. He enjoyed his new club, which was just 20 minutes from Stockholm. But the team was relegated twice, ending up in the third tier of Swedish soccer division, and he was loaned to Boden, which is one level above.

"They just couldn't afford me," he said.

Boden is small and very north, but very beautiful in the summer, he says. He also enjoys the soccer although the Swedish game is more direct - more long balls, more physical than he was used to in Greece.

His future is up in the air with just six months left on his Nykoping deal after this season. There is some interest in Greece.

Notes: Canadian defender Marco Reda is hurt and did not make the trip to Spain. The Canadian team has not replaced him ... Canada is ranked 84th in the world.

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