Home Global Game CONCACAF Canada’s coach plays down ‘favourite’ tag ahead of St. Lucia match

Canada’s coach plays down ‘favourite’ tag ahead of St. Lucia match

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Expect the unexpected.

This is what Canada needs to be wary of when it kicks off its first qualifying match against St. Lucia on Friday, as the men’s national team begins its long and tough journey to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Coach Stephen Hart told media at a press conference on Wednesday that he dismissed any notion of his team being the favourite. With only the group winner advancing to the next round, there is very little room for error — every game, every goal and every point is important.

“We haven’t discussed that,” said an adamant Hart. “As far as we’re concerned we’re not even considering that. The format is simple – you have to win the group. The training in the last three days have been all business, great enthusiasm, great passion and when needed, some light-hearted times.”

Canada will be very hard pressed to make it to the next World Cup, but at the very least has a very good shot at advancing out of the second round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region.

Placed in Group D along with St. Lucia, Puerto Rico and St. Kitts and Nevis, Canada is considered the favourite to win the group and is one of 29 teams still vying for the coveted 3.5 spots to represent the region at the next World Cup.

“Over all, we have approached this like we have any other game,” said Hart. “Of course there are always good days and bad days – there’s no getting away from that – it’s like any other job. We have not spoken at all about being overwhelming favourites or anything. We are not trusting any sort of discussion like that at all.”

In July, St. Lucia barely scraped past Aruba to get out of the first round of qualifying. Both countries won 4-2 at home, but St. Lucia won the series 5-4 on penalty kicks. The island nation played in one other match just over a week ago losing an international friendly to Barbados 4-0. Its U-23 team also lost all of its three Olympic qualification matches in July. Aside from that, there is very little information or reports available to Canada about its first opponent.

“I’ve spoke to some my ex-teammates and coaches in the Caribbean,” said Hart. “St. Lucia, a lot of the influence they have in the coaching they’ve had is from the U.K. and they will use their physical qualities more, probably be more direct in that sense.

“They will be largely a local squad. There will probably be a couple of players that play in lower leagues, but I think they will be largely a local squad. I don’t know what their preparation has been. They haven’t played a lot of games but they might have been preparing or training five times a week as a club — I can’t answer that.”

Hart, originally from Trinidad & Tobago realizes the importance of these World Cup qualifying matches for the three opponents that lie ahead of his squad.

“The smaller Caribbean countries are very excited about this — their concerns are can they afford to go to all the games and all of that. This is a big opportunity for them – in the opening games there’s going to be a lot of enthusiasm and this is where it’s going to be the most dangerous. Once things start not going your way, you start to doubt yourself. You have to be careful.”

Despite having a cautious approach with his Hart rather unknown opponents, he is admittedly more focused on preparing his team and getting his players to execute his game plan than worry about his opposition.

“Ever since I have taken over this team we have focused on us — what we do well. When you play soccer, 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 we control which is when we have the ball, etcetera, and etcetera. So we will continue to do that and of course you scout the opposition for certain things, but we continue to build on our qualities and what we do well.”

Norwich City forward Simeon Jackson is also unsure as to what to expect on Friday but is ready for anything.

“You just got to be prepared for everything,” said Jackson. “It’s something where there’s not many clubs to watch but for us we have to concentrate on what we’re doing. So we’re going to go out there and try to execute a plan and get the result, hopefully.”

Jackson has not seen much action in Norwich’s three matches this season since being promoted to the Premier League, but hopes to contribute as much as he can for his country – especially scoring goals for what has been anemic Canadian offence. The team has been ineffective so far this year including its recent play at the Gold Cup in June and in its international friendlies.

“Hopefully I can come in because I’m fresh and obviously help the team,” said Jackson. “That’s what it’s all about when you’re a striker — you have to score goals and that’s what you’re judged on. Looking at these games I’m eager to get some goals on the board and obviously playing well. But it’s about winning the group and it doesn’t matter how many goals you score as long as you win.”

The 12th Man

With all three of its home qualifying matches taking place in Toronto, a lot of talk has centred on the fans in the city not being supportive enough of the national team. In previous games at BMO Field the attendance has been dismal and the majority of the fans were supporters of the opposing team rather than the Red and White. This has frustrated the players who would like nothing more than a full stadium of its own supporters cheering them on at home.

“I think we just have to get results,” said Jackson. “When you’re winning games, you get the supporters jumping on the bandwagon. There’s good support now but obviously it will improve hopefully once we get results and get some momentum going. Of course you try to block it out, you have to be professional and play. It does get frustrating at times but we have to just deal with and hopefully it will improve.”

Added midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, “I feel pretty much the exact same way. Sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating when you got a home game and it’s kind of 50-50 or more towards the other team, but like Simeon said you just have to focus and try to get a good result. The more results the better for the team and hopefully for the country to get us some more attention.”

Hart dismissed any notion of staging matches in other cities across Canada where it might be more difficult for the opposing fans to attend thus providing a better chance of the crowd being pro-Canada.

“Those nations you are talking about — I don’t care where we play they’ll come,” said Hart. “That’s a fact. I’ve been in Canada since 1980 – they’re coming. They are passionate about their country, they’re 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. If there are people out there waiting until something happens, we will have to make that something happen and then you’re going to have to prove to us that’s what you were waiting for.”

Canada will not have to wait very long before it plays its second qualifying match when the team travels to Puerto Rico on Sept. 6. It will be a quick turnaround but the team is not making the mistake of looking ahead.

“It’s almost cliche – one game at a time,” said Hart. “As far as we are concerned, we haven’t even talked about Puerto Rico. All we’re talking about is Friday.”

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