Canada’s Dwayne De Rosario (R) unsuccessfully kicks towards goal against Panama’s Eduardo Dasent during their CONCACAF Gold Cup match at Livestrong Stadium in Kansas City, Kansas June 14, 2011.
Photograph by: Dave Kaup, Reuters
MATTHEW SCIANITTI, POSTMEDIA NEWS
Toronto- It was a silly question.
A publicist asked Canadian national team midfielder Atiba Hutchinson how much a berth in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil would mean to the country. The 28-year-old’s mouth moved but his eyes were glassy.
“Everyone would get a lot more pumped for football, or soccer,” said Hutchinson, who plays in the Netherlands for PSV Eindhoven. “I think it would mean a lot if we could get the chance to get there.”
Canada’s first World Cup qualifier is against St. Lucia on Friday night at BMO Field, and there were a few of those predictable queries that arise before every World Cup qualification during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Hutchinson, forward Simeon Jackson and head coach Stephen Hart obliged, but the trio were succinct in explaining what Canada, ranked 102nd in the world, will have to do to get to its first World Cup since 1986: win.
“The objective is to win the group and to play consistently,” Hart said.
Canada enters CONCACAF’s qualification process in a second-stage group phase with the other low-ranked countries: St. Lucia (184th), Puerto Rico (144th) and St. Kitts and Nevis (122nd). If Canada wins the group, it will join the other five second-stage winners in the next phase along with the region’s top six countries, including Honduras (50th), Mexico (20th) and the United States (28th).
The three group winners and three runners-up in that phase would enter a final group where the top three countries would advance to FIFA’s showpiece in Brazil. The fourth-place team will go into an intercontinental playoff.
It is a gruelling qualification marathon Canada probably will not survive given its problems staying healthy and performing consistently. Hart, who has been Canada’s head coach since 2009, refuses to look past this weekend.
“One game at a time,” he said. “We have not had discussions as a group, as a team, about anything except our own performances, our own individual roles, or own responsibilities — all we’re considered about is Friday.”
Canada’s next qualifier will be against Puerto Rico in Bayamon on Sept. 6.
Although Canada is in a rare role as group favourite, it has not had the opportunity to scout its island opponents, which are comprised mostly of local players who have the opportunity to train together on a regular basis.
The lack of pre-match knowledge does not concern Hart. No matter the opponent, Canada can only focus on itself, he said.
With Canadians playing in Major League Soccer and across Europe, the little time the team spends together must be dedicated to building familiarity. The Canadian team has spent the last few days training in Alliston, Ont.
“If you focus too much on the opponent, what happens is it takes away from your own game, and we have been working very hard on the part of the game that we control, which is when we have the ball,” Hart said.
Canada’s effort on the field is not the only thing Hart and his players know they can control. They said it is “frustrating” to know Canadians are largely uninterested with the national team and are all too willing to embrace their cultural background during World Cup qualification. But winning on the field could also mean finally swaying fickle hearts.
“(Canadians who cheer for their cultural homes) are passionate about their country and they are coming. So for me we have to get the job done and those people who have supported us and continue to support us, we applaud them,” Hart said.
“And if there are people out there who are waiting until something happens, then we are going to have to make that something happen and then (the fans) are going to have to prove to us that that is what they were waiting for.”