A Long Cold Winter Ahead: Canada's World Cup Hopes Slipping

From -With the coming of a long hard winter Canadian football supporters’ blues may be worse than ever this year. Despite signing up respected former player Frank Yallop to lead a talented squad the Canucks failures so far in 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying have been conspicuous.

After brushing aside Belize 8-0 in the earlier preliminary play-off the bad luck of the draw stuck Canada into a semi-final group with emerging Guatemala Honduras and 2002 FIFA World Cup veterans Costa Rica with only the top two sides advancing into the final qualifying group. But calling on some promising youngsters a deep attack and with their first two matches at home the Canadians were expected to get their qualifying off to a positive start.

In the relatively comfy confines outside of Vancouver Canada’s first match of the round was notable only for the dominance of Guatemala’s Carlos Ruiz. The ‘Little Fish’ tallied twice and ran the red-clad defence ragged all match creating more chances than the rest of the hosts players combined. Yallop watched uneasily as the MLS star opened the scoring in the first half and then sealed the result with a chip over veteran goalkeeper Pat Onstad in the 59th.

After the match Yallop said plainly: "It was a very disappointing night … It’s only one game out of six and we know we now have a lot to do. They were a better team than us on the night."

It was to be a theme repeated thereafter though hopes ahead of the home contest with Honduras remained high with the recovery of Tomasz Radzinski and Jason de Vos from injury and Iain Hume returning from suspension.

In Edmonton this time the Canucks fared far better against slick Honduras but missed their chance to get their train back on the rails when they conceded a penalty kick in the dying minutes that equalised De Vos’ opener. Canada were more impressive than they had been in their opener but the single point earned at home still had Yallop claiming Canada had to win "three of their next four matches" if the team were to keep their Germany 2006 adventure alive.

Despite being without De Vos again this time through suspension Canada continued to improve their play in San Jose Costa Rica. The Ticos had been having significant troubles of their own against Honduras (2-5 loss at home) and Guatemala (2-1 defeat in Guatemala city) and the 15000 supporters in Ricardo Saprissa Stadium were in no mood for niceties.

After an even first half in which his side gave as good as they got Yallop’s men found themselves in the hole just seconds after the break when half-time substitute Paulo Wanchope got the best possible start with what turned out to be match’s only goal. The Malaga forward continued to plague the visitors but with Onstad in excellent form the Canucks kept themselves in with a shout.

Ultimately their promising attacking edge was too dull to break down such quality opponents and the team was left ruing its inability to neutralise the opposite team’s point of attack. The Canadians continue to be a mid-level team in the North and Central American and Caribbean Zone but a lack of consistency at both ends of the pitch have them stalled behind the improving sides from farther south.