The Canadian soccer fan generally experiences two emotions: naïve belief and soul sucking pessimism. Twenty-six years of frustration, incompetence and occasional, maddening flashes of possibility will do that to even the most even-tempered supporter. Cheering for Canada is work. It would be far easier to just do what many other Canadians do and pretend that we are from somewhere else, somewhere that’s better.
But, we can’t. No, if you’ve caught the Canadian bug at this point you are unlikely to abandon ship now. The importance of loyalty and of staying true to the nation of your birth are too ingrained in your personality to switch allegiances. There are no easy roads to the World Cup, you’ve just picked one with a particularly large amount of potholes. So, while much of the rest of the country counts down the hours until the kick-off of Euro 2012 Friday you, the Canadian fan, are focused on the real start to Canada’s 2014 qualifying cycle.
Canada plays Cuba Friday at 2:00 PM EST in the blinding, midday Caribbean heat (imagine that: an FA trying to make the game conditions as uncomfortable as possible for the competition). Conventional thinking is that Cuba is the weak player in Canada’s group, which also includes Panama and Honduras. Their results in the Gold Cup would seem to back that up.
World Cup qualifying however is a different animal. It’s a desperate beast from which only those who are as mentally strong as they are physically skilled can escape. Outside of CONCACAF, this region is looked down upon. And, it’s true—the overall skill level is lower than it would be in larger confederation.
But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy region from which to qualify. From extreme weather to (allegedly) corrupt officials, CONCACAF is its own unique mess. To succeed in the region you have to play by its rules and those rules suggest that you must be willing to overcome things that, if they happened in UEFA, would cause rioting on the streets and calls for corruption inquires.
It’s been a long time since Canada demonstrated it can do that, and that’s why Canadian fans remain unconvinced that the Canucks can get it done this time. They are hopeful, of course, but have been burned too many times in the past. In many ways the game Friday will be the most telling Canada plays. If it’s the same old spineless Canada then you can expect a tepid performance. It will be hot, they won’t get the calls and the excuses write themselves. Canada is more talented, but talent is only part of the story.
The most likely result is a 0-0, with the team and its fans very, very angry about some call they didn’t get. They’ll probably be right – chances are they will be screwed at some point – but no one will care. If Canada is to ever to qualify for a World Cup again it simply must overcome those frustrations. Hopefully, for the long suffering fan, they will demonstrate that ability on Friday. If they can, then a trip back to the Hex could beckon.