There’s another CONCACAF total mismatch in the offing in Bradenton this evening when Canada meets the national team of the Cayman Islands (242 square km).
The most ponderable and interesting thing of the evening may well be whether Iain Hume can avoid swearing during One Soccer’s live broadcast.
The 22-man squad facing Canada is representative of the three island collective of almost 66,000 people, a population half the size of Sherbrooke, smaller than Trois-Rivieres and about the same as Drummondville, Quebec.
Despite only losing out to Barbados on goal difference at the top of their Nations League group they are one of the worst teams in World football, ranked 193rd. There are 210 on the list, and Cayman Islands have been as low as 206th.
John Herdman has to afford his opponent respect when facing the media throng, many of whom are digging deep for something interesting to ask, because everyone knows this one’s a foregone conclusion and a second consecutive outing from which the Canadian coach will learn little, if anything, about his squad.
At least Sam Piette, who called it rather more bluntly when he said Canada should not be facing such lowly ranked countries in World Cup qualifying, said what was on his mind.
And he’s right, but the situation really reflects the Canadian national team’s steady decline since its 1986 pinnacle, perforated by miraculous Gold Cup success twenty-one years ago, which decrees Canada must plumb the depths before earning the right to play at the top table. Aruba, ranked even lower than today’s opponent, is still to come in June, along with Surinam, an opponent which at least (and at last) provides hope for a half-decent challenge.
What creates the stark contrast between the past and now of course is the relative wealth of talent Canada currently possesses, including one of the best left-sided players in World football. Canada and her footballers have made such a quantum leap in a very short space of time, leading to a situation now where top professionals like Davies, Kaye, David and Arfield (ok the latter pair are unavailable) must face opposition that may not quite be top-level PLSQ.
Make no mistake, this is a significant occasion for those players representing the Cayman Islands, who’ll be looking forward to sharing a pitch with the likes of Alphonso Davies. It makes a great story to tell the grandkids and for that we should be happy for them, but I wonder how long before their right side is sick of the sight of the former Vancouver man? That’s if he plays, of course.
With important club games to come for Bayern it wouldn’t surprise if Fonsie’s left on the bench this evening.
The Cayman Islands’ record margin of defeat is probably under threat this evening if Herdman continues to preach ruthlessness to his troops. They’ve lost by seven goals on five occasions in just over 100 internationals played since their first one in 1985. The sides inflicting the pain have included some of the better sides in the region, USA and Trinidad (twice), but also Martinique and Cuba. The good news for the islanders is that they’ve tightened up. The last of those seven-goal hammerings was the Cuban one, and that was 15 years ago now, although there has been a 1-7 reverse against Guadeloupe since.
Canada must raise themselves back above the parapet of footballing acceptability through this campaign and remain there. Of course everyone involved is not outwardly looking further than the next game, but inside they must be willing this phase of qualification over so they can get down to the real business.
Anything short of reaching the octagonal will be viewed as failure. Actually I’d go further: Canada needs to lift itself back amongst the top five nations in the region this time around, with the aim of reaching top three by the time World Cup hits these shores in 2026.
No matter the optimism and despite the holy octagonal grail being within grasp, Canada should not yet look further ahead than the play-off providing the final gateway to the top eight. Their most likely opponent will be Haiti, over two-legs, and that can spell trouble with a capital ‘T’.
The Haitians provided Herdman the first real test of his reign and his team blew it royally, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2019 Gold Cup quarter-final.
In June the same opposition is almost certain to provide his second major test. This time he cannot fail.
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 21). Recorded Wednesday (24 March), the TBIR team discuss the National Team’s Road to Qatar, the U23s in Mexico, a return for Jason Di Tullio and Florida pre-season plans... Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!
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