Sports Dave Feschuk: World Cup a soccer gift that could keep giving for Canada

00:56  14 june  2018
00:56  14 june  2018 Source:   thestar.com

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By Dave FeschukSports Columnist. Wed., June 13, 2018. It was only six years ago that Victor Montagliani, then president of Canada Soccer , first broached the idea of Canada making a play for a men’s World Cup , a brainwave that, at the time, was dismissed as a pipe dream.

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The United 2026 bid officials Steve Reed, left, the president of the Canadian Soccer Association, Carlos Cordeiro, second from left, the president of the United States Football Association, and Decio de Maria Serrano, second from the right, president of the Mexican Football Association, react to the announcement North America will host the 2026 World Cup.© KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV The United 2026 bid officials Steve Reed, left, the president of the Canadian Soccer Association, Carlos Cordeiro, second from left, the president of the United States Football Association, and Decio de Maria Serrano, second from the right, president of the Mexican Football Association, react to the announcement North America will host the 2026 World Cup.

The soccer-loving romantics were hugging and fist-bumping early Wednesday morning in the moments after North America’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup won the day with FIFA’s blue blazers.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. I was so excited about what could happen,” said Bill Manning, president of Toronto FC, speaking to reporters at BMO Field.

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“It’s officially football Christmas for Canada,” said John Herdman, head coach of the national men’s team. “It’s one of those mornings, you wonder if Santa’s going to come. And he absolutely did this morning.”

The idea that, in eight years time, Canada will become the 19th country to welcome the world’s biggest sporting event to its shores is fantastical enough to send big imaginations racing. It was only six years ago that Victor Montagliani, then president of Canada Soccer, first broached the idea of Canada making a play for a men’s World Cup, a brainwave that, at the time, was dismissed as a pipe dream. Maybe it was a tad ridiculous, the concept of little old Canada single-handedly rolling out the red carpet — or, for that matter, the green carpet on which they still play professional matches at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium — for all of soccer-playing humanity.

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The idea evolved. And what we’re talking about here, a three-country blueprint that currently has the United States absorbing 60 games while Canada and Mexico put on 10 apiece, is far less daunting. It could even be seen as inspiring, a boon to the currently dismal state of Canada-U.S.-Mexico relations. What are the chances the NAFTA triumvirate can co-operate to make this tournament a hit? Well, in 2026 Trump won’t be president. Or, at least, this Trump.

Still, as much as the win was exhilarating to the sport’s devotees, it had to be at least a little spooky to Canada’s taxpayers. If there’s ever going to exist a more scandal-plagued, corruption-assumed sporting organization on the planet than soccer’s global governing body, it’ll need to do a lot of shady business to catch up to FIFA’s historic record of malfeasance. When you enter a room with the men who control the world’s various soccer federations, lucrative fiefdoms all, you hold onto your wallet and hold your breath. You’re going to walk out poorer, for sure. But hopefully not too much poorer. A cynic could say the smell of money proved overpowering again on Wednesday. While Morocco had considerable support — the United Bid won the vote 134-65 — the North African country’s projected revenues were about half of what the United Bid was promising. That’ll be profit in FIFA’s pocket.

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Meanwhile the uncertainty around the possible hidden costs of putting on World Cup games, specifically ever-ballooning security costs that FIFA foists on organizers, drove British Columbia’s government to remove Vancouver from consideration as a host city. Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal are the three Canadian cities left standing. The latest iteration of the United Bid’s plan has BMO Field hosting an opening-day game among its slate. But nothing is finalized. Herdman’s Canadian team, as it is, still isn’t guaranteed a spot in the 48-team field, although it’s nearly unfathomable that that won’t be worked out in the months to come.

And if you can get past doing business with FIFA — if your country can get in and out without spending the billions in public money that, say, Brazil spent on the 2014 tournament — you can make the case the end can justify the means.

The end, if you talk to the soccer romantics, could be the foundation that transforms an undeniably enthusiastic soccer nation into a globally competitive one, the way the 1994 World Cup in the United States helped turn our neighbours to the south into a more formidable force. Canada, as much as it has established itself as a contender in the women’s game, remains a minnow on the men’s side. A team wearing the Maple Leaf has never won a match at the World Cup — never even scored a goal. Canada has only qualified for the tournament once, in 1986, when the field consisted of 24 teams.

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MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin tried to use the World Cup , Pussy Riot tried to interrupt it and 31 other teams did all they could to win it, but it was France that owned soccer ’s finest Or, in the final, of Luka Modric summoning one last virtuoso performance to give a tiny nation its most treasured moment.

And Herdman makes the case that those depressing realities have long infected the game here. At least a couple of generations of aspiring players and coaches have never enjoyed the experience of cheering for Canada on the global stage.

“That experience that gives you goosebumps. That experience that gets you shouting at the TV. That experience that makes you want to stand taller for Canada and do things that you wouldn’t normally do for other people in your country. That’s what we’ve got right in front of us now,” Herdman told reporters Wednesday. “And I’d just ask every Canadian to unite around this one opportunity, this one vision. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There are people who would kill for this opportunity. For a World Cup to come to your town, your city. And it’s coming. So let’s unite. It’s time. We’re clear. We want to take a team to the World Cup, not to participate, but to compete.”

So that makes two realistic goals here: Don’t get ripped off, and don’t be happy just getting in. In a conversation last week Herdman made the case that Canada’s team needs to take aim at winning games in the tournament — or, heck, one game — rather than simply revelling in a participation ribbon. And qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be an important step in that progression.

“I’m not saying we can win the World Cup. I’m saying we can compete. No different to Costa Rica. No different to Iceland or Wales. We can compete. We can be a story of a tournament,” Herdman said. “That’s what Canada can do. We can definitely compete. At the minute, we’re not competing. Because we’re not there.”

There’s every chance Canada will be there — er, here — eight years from now, a football Christmas that could bring with it the gift of a transformed future in the beautiful game.

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