September 14, 2015 2:08 pm

SPORTS CORNER: 30 years of frustration

Canada fans cheer in the stands during first half FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer action against Belize in Toronto Friday September 4, 2015. The Canadian men, ranked No. 102 in the world, look to finish off the job Tuesday when they face No. 128 Belize at FFB Field in the capital of Belmopan.


EDMONTON – On this day, 30 years ago, one of the greatest moments in Canadian soccer history took place. They were NASL professionals. There was a bus driver and even a postman. Together, they were united as one — capturing the imagination of Canadians from coast to coast to coast and accomplishing the impossible… qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.

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On Sept. 14, 1985, a sold-out crowd at King George V Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland erupted as Canada defeated Honduras 2-1 to book a trip to Mexico.

Duane Rollins, Managing Editor of Canadian Soccer News, was just 12 years old at the time when he watched this game – the first time ever watching a Canadian National team game. It was the start of a love affair with the team, one that would leave him frustrated in the following decades.

You see, this game should have sparked a generation of success. What happened next was complacency and failure after failure after failure.

“When you support a team that is so bad for so long it becomes almost a badge of honour,” said Rollins.

“We are the Chicago Cubs of international soccer.”

Does that mean over a century of heartbreak? It certainly feels that way.

Canada’s début at the 1986 FIFA World Cup was anything but memorable. They failed to score a single goal, losing all three games to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

FC Edmonton Head Coach Colin Miller was part of that World Cup squad and admits the players didn’t really grasp what they had accomplished.

Evidently, neither did the Canadian Soccer Association.

“I think at that time in ’86, we could have gone a long way in putting some real, serious building blocks that would have put us farther ahead than we are at the moment.”

In fact, Miller didn’t mince words when it comes to the state of soccer in this country.

 “We’re almost a third world country in the development of the game because of developments, youth clubs not speaking and working with each other, provincial bodies, working with professional clubs and so on.”

A sentiment shared by Duane Rollins.

“The politics are absolutely the biggest issue,” he said. “Clubs get possessive and fail to see bigger picture.”

Just how bad have things been? Their qualifying record speaks volumes:

1990 World Cup: Lost in third round of qualifying
1994 World Cup: Lost in play-off vs. Australia (2-1, 1-2, 1-4 on PK)
1998 World Cup: Lost in final round of qualifying
2002 – 2014 World Cup: Lost in third round of qualifying

1994 was a heart breaker. The team had defeated Australia 2-1 at Commonwealth Stadium and was on the verge of a second World Cup appearance. But they dropped a 2-1 decision in the return leg in Sydney and were eliminated on penalty kicks 4-1.

From there, it’s been all downhill (save for their 2000 Gold Cup Championship) and may not get any better in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Canada has advanced to the third round of qualifying but have been put into a group with Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. Only the top two teams will advance to the final round of qualifying.

Colin Miller’s heart sank when he saw the draw, while Duane Rollins already looking ahead to 2022.

“I’m at peace with the idea that Canada is unlikely to get more than 4-6 points in next round,” said Rollins.

Miller isn’t at that point just yet, but admits Canada needs to pick up maximum points at home.

“The games in Canada now become absolutely massive, absolutely massive.”

So perhaps it’s fitting that on the 30th anniversary of Canada’s last qualification, the CSA holds a news conference to announce home dates for the third round. They’ll need the support, they’ll need some luck and they’ll need to find the magic from ’85 if they hope to get one step closer to Russia.

© 2015 Shaw Media, 2015

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