It lasted 131 days. It began with great joy on a hot afternoon in Cuba and ended in utter disgrace on a hot afternoon in Honduras.
What happened in between was unprecedented in Canada. More and more people began to care what the national team was doing. Three home games in Toronto built momentum and each attracted between 16,000 and 18,000 fans with the majority, unusually, supporting the men in red.
After all, 2012 has been a year of great celebration – led by the women’s team winning bronze in London and of course the centennial celebrations highlighted by a friendly against USA in June. When the dust settles, what cannot be forgotten is Canada’s qualifying campaign, despite the humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras at the final hurdle.
History will be a lot kinder to this men’s team than what today and tomorrow will bring. You see, they’ve been around a while, rolled with the punches and failed before when far less people cared. The problem they have right now is the spotlight is bigger than ever on them and on the biggest of stages they reached a new low for even the most loyal long-serving Canadian soccer fan (who have been through a lot with this team).
That being said, falling flat on one’s face at the sixth hurdle after getting through five is an achievement for this bunch of players. It was called the team’s biggest game in a decade for a reason, they’d simply achieved something they had not got close to in the past three World Cup qualifying campaigns and that should not be forgotten. Losing 8-1 to Honduras was pathetic but going into the final match in the group with qualification in their own hands is something this side should not simply be expected to do. They are not good enough. Yet expectations were higher than ever for some reason.
Perhaps, it was the ten points they’d achieved in the five games up to this, the four clean sheets along the way and the defensive solidity as a team that they’d shown. However, beneath the layer of such evidence lay massive cracks in their armour. An inability to score goals (5 in 5 games) and convert chances that weren’t laid on a plate for a player. A lack of width that could stretch good teams not called Cuba. And most importantly a constant problem taking over games and controlling them away from home. Against Panama they were accused of ‘not showing up’ and showing a ‘lack of heart’, yet to throw such charges their way must mean there has been evidence in the past of the contrary, away from home against technically better Concacaf sides.
The same allegations have been said by the media once again following the 8-1 thrashing.
For those citing a lack of effort, you’re bang on. No urgency cutting down space. Haven’t shown proper desire and willingness to fight.
— Gareth Wheeler (@WheelerTSN) October 16, 2012
— Sid Seixeiro (@Sid_Seixeiro) October 16, 2012
If he has any sense Stephen Hart will resign tomorrow. If he doesn’t the CSA needs to show decisiveness and dismiss him immediately.
— Jerrad Peters (@peterssoccer) October 16, 2012
It is easy to jump on players for the lack of urgency, heart or desire when they are down 4-0 after 32 minutes and equally easy to destroy their coach. However, it was not Stephen Hart on the pitch for the first 32 minutes when the team collectively defended poorly on all four goals. It was not Stephen Hart who failed to put away a great scoring chance in the box after 71 seconds when the score was 0-0. Yet it was Stephen Hart who offered this comment immediately following the match.
“I don’t want to blame the players. It was my responsibility.”
Hart must take some responsibility for this loss, of course, but to castigate him after this not only takes away what he did with an average bunch of players to get here but also allows the players off the hook. Ultimately, eleven players went out on that field in Honduras and didn’t perform. Football coaches get too much praise when their team succeeds and too much blame when their team fails. Hart may ultimately be sacrificed and needs to be asked about certain personnel and tactical decisions but he is not the reason Canada’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign ended today.
If they’d been drawn away to Honduras earlier in the campaign it would have been over before now. Be thankful, Canada, for three meaningful home games at this stage and for the small signs of progress this team has shown up to now. October 16th, 2012 will go down as a painful day in the history of this side but until a long-term plan is put in place for player development, get used to watching this side struggle away from home against teams like Honduras and Panama. Get used to being outplayed by the likes of Mario Martinez, Arnold Peralta, Emilio Izaguirre, Armando Cooper and Amilcar Henriquez. Technical, skillful young players Canada can only dream of producing.
It’s okay to be disappointed, even despondent, at an 8-1 crushing, but at least now people have a better idea of the talent pool available to Canada compared to teams they must bypass to reach the promise land.