MONDAY MUSINGS: When Canada shocked Brazil & other memorable World Cup warm-ups
It’s a World Cup year and summer is approaching, which can only mean one thing: the imminent arrival of the international warm-up friendly.
There is no other match in football in which the result is quite so meaningless and yet the stakes so high. The selection of the final squad is debated. Late, tournament-ruining injuries leave plans in tatters. Roy Keane asks if a half-fit Jordan Henderson is being taken to the European Championship to “do quizzes in the evenings”.
This year, of course, the World Cup itself will not be played until winter, giving coaches a few more months to prepare. But the late-spring tradition has remained untouched, and Canada will face Iran in Vancouver in early June.
As we know, Canada has qualified for the World Cup only once before, in 1986, and did not score a goal at that tournament. But through the all-important warm-up friendly, the Canadians have exerted more influence over football’s greatest stage than you might think.
We’re going to take a glance back in time to find out how.
1986: An omen at Swangard
Canada 0-1 England
Before the Hand of God, there was the Hand(s) of Bobby.
Canada arranged no fewer than seven matches in the first half of 1986 to prepare for the World Cup in Mexico, taking on Paraguay, Uruguay, and the United States early in the year before facing Mexico, Wales (twice), and England in April and May.
Four of those games were played in Canada, including the visit of England to Swangard Stadium a week before the tournament. “The crowd,” the English commentator Brian Moore remarks, “is not large, but is very enthusiastic.”
England won 1-0 thanks to Mark Hateley’s second-half goal. But before that, Bobby Lenarduzzi gave the Three Lions an advance taste of what was to come that summer from Diego Maradona.
An England corner from the right is flicked towards the far post. Gary Lineker flings himself at the ball and connects with a diving header, but Lenarduzzi denies a certain goal by raising both of his arms to block.
It’s a clear handball but shouldn’t matter, as Lineker and Steve Hodge bundle the ball over the line anyway.
Except it does, thanks to a masterclass in protest on the part of the Canadians. Lenarduzzi, Paul Dolan, and Bruce Wilson immediately insist in unison that it is actually Lineker who has handballed, and Lenarduzzi’s infraction is so comically blatant that the referee is apparently unsure it happened at all. He agrees with them.
Later on, Lineker has a chance to break into the box but is stopped in his tracks by a typically strong Randy Samuel challenge. Samuel wins the ball, but both players end up on the turf in a tangle and Lineker does not get back up, clutching a fractured wrist. He would go on to score six goals and win the Golden Boot wearing a cast in Mexico.
1994: The real group of death
Canada 1-1 Brazil (among others)
Canada did not qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States, but no team in the world experienced a tougher run of matches that summer.
With numerous nations flying in early to acclimatize ahead of the first World Cup on North American soil, the Canadian program saw an opportunity to cash in. Canada would offer itself up as an opponent to Morocco, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands — and squeeze all five matches, which involved trips between Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton, into just 12 days.
Canada did not win a single one but their draw against eventual world champions Brazil at Commonwealth Stadium still stands as one of the most memorable results in the team’s history.
More than 50,000 people poured into Commonwealth Stadium to see Romario, who was at that moment widely considered the best player in the world. Eight members of the Brazilian team would start in the final against Italy six weeks later.
What Brazil likely saw as a gentle tune-up turned out to be something of a wake-up call. A spririted Canadian team came out flying, denying the Brazilians time on the ball and looking to release the lively Domenic Mobilio. The early buzz reaches a crescendo when Vic Rauter interrupts himself mid-sentence to unleash a “LIIIIMNIATIS!” as the Montreal Impact midfielder takes aim from 30 yards. The shot flies wide.
Just when it looks as if Canada will get to half-time level, Romario picks up the ball on the left. Bebeto’s decoy run sucks in three red jerseys, and Romario breezes past all of them. Then another. And another. His shot squeaks past Craig Forrest. “That’s what we came here to see,” says Graham Leggat.
Brazil creates chance after chance after the break, but Forrest’s heroics keep the deficit at one.
Then, Iain Fraser angles a ball between the Brazilian centre-backs for substitute Eddy Berdusco to chase, and the unthinkable happens.
Maybe, just maybe, Berdusco’s goal — and the resulting inquest in the Brazilian media — changed the course of history south of the border that summer. In the aftermath, the Edmonton Journal described “reports of a country-club atmosphere surrounding the team’s World Cup training camp… Romario was allowed to skip practice and instead play beach volleyball.”
“There is no way we would have expected just to draw with Canada,” admitted Bebeto.
“We know we have to play better than that,” said Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.
2010: Maradona throws a party
Argentina 5-0 Canada
I found it odd, at first, that Argentina had invited Canada to Buenos Aires to be their final opponent before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The Canadians had failed to reach the final round of Concacaf qualifying and Argentina, coached by Diego Maradona, did not have a North American team to prepare for in their group.
But further investigation revealed a pattern: instead of testing themselves against a comparable opponent, Argentina’s ideal send-off match consists of smashing a team at least 50 spots lower in the FIFA rankings and throwing a big party. This is a tradition that endures, with Argentina getting set for the 2018 World Cup by sticking four past Haiti.
In what is surely one of the strangest gigs of her career, Katherine Jenkins has been brought in to sing the Canadian anthem. The pitch is littered with confetti to further emphasize the mood. Canada, to their credit, gives the Estadio Monumental crowd what they came for, not looking overly concerned with defensive solidity.
When Gonzalo Higuain dashes into a wide-open Canada half, the only thing for Richard Hastings to do is line up an NHL-calibre hip check. Unfortunately for Hastings, Carlos Tevez is on hand to pick up the loose ball and set up Maxi Rodriguez’s second of the game.
Shortly before the fourth of five goals, the crowd starts jumping up and down while chanting and Maradona joins in. Argentina’s round-of-16 win over Mexico was the high point of the most ‘no tactics, just vibes’ campaign by a major nation in World Cup history, but this night in front of their own fans can’t have been far off.
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