Friday, March 22, 2013

Canadian Soccer

Today I was out doing a few errands when I remembered that someone told me Canada was playing Japan tonight in a friendly match. Leaving aside the mystery of why the Canadian team was here in the first place I had nothing else to do this evening so I headed off to Khalifa Stadium for the match. Doing this as a spur-of-the-moment thing had its drawbacks -- I had no Canadian gear on and didn't have my camera with me so, alas, there are no pictures.

Another mystery was why it was held in Khalifa Stadium (seating about 20,000) as opposed to Al Sadd Stadium (seating about 7,000) since I figured maybe 500 people would show up. Turns out I was too pessimistic, I figure there was over 1,000 people, with possibly more Japanese than Canadians. Seating was only available at one portion of the stadium so at least everyone was together.

Anyway in soccer Japan is typically ranked in the top 25 in the world while Canada is ranked, umm, far lower. Canada's already failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup while Japan is expected to be there. It's not too surprising that Canada has not qualified, as far as I recall they’ve only ever qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986. Because the Japanese are a top team there were tons of sports photographers from Japan parked behind the Canadian goal to get photos. I think there was one cameraman behind the Japanese goal, and it was probably a local photographer for the sports page. I'd be surprised if any Canadian sports media were there. That's just the way it is -- soccer's just not a huge sport in Canada.

So with that in mind I went to the game with an expectation that Japan would completely dominate and win by probably three or four goals. I wasn't fooling myself that Canada would win.

The first half was as expected, Japan was clearly dominant and produced tons of chances while Canada looked lackluster. But Canada definitely had a lot of luck with them as Japan only scored once and I could think of at least three times that Japan should have scored but for some reason missed (two of those were real “how the heck did they not score?” kind of chances). So the score at halftime was 1-0 for Japan. Tell you the truth I was impressed Canada had only kept them to one goal.

But in the second half a good rest and a couple of key substitutions by Canada really seemed to bring some life to the team. The offense was playing a lot more confidently and Canada was getting some chances, while defensively things were also improving. A solid corner kick into the crowd in front of the goal found a Canadian player and suddenly it was 1-1! Japan later scored a great goal to make it 2-1 but Canada had a couple more excellent chances and were definitely giving the Japanese a run for their money. Japan also had one more “how did they not score?” moment but when all was said and done the score remained 2-1.

Given my expectations going in I was definitely impressed with how Canada did, especially in the second half when I think they were equal to the much higher-ranked Japanese. If Canada could have consistently played like that I'm sure they would still be in the hunt for qualifying for the World Cup.

Great job Canada!

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