BC Place will become the epicentre of attention for Canadian and Mexican futbol on Friday night.
Over 54,000 supporters will congregate to witness Les Rouges battle El Tri in the third match of the fourth round of the CONCACAF qualification process to earn a ticket to the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia.
This game has evolved from a “cool thing” to have in Vancouver when it was announced back in the fall to a “big thing.” There is definitely a feeling in the air that something is brewing.
The Mexican players, technical staff, media, and supporters have trickled in throughout the week and their battle with the weather started earlier than expected for the shivering contingent.
— FTBL Podcast (@FromTheBackline) March 24, 2016
Throughout the week I have been asked several times the same question. How bad will Canada get beaten?
At first glance, it is true that the Reds will have a tall mountain to climb. It is a David and Goliath scenario of sorts. The Mexican team is definitely the favourite to take the win whenever they step onto the pitch in CONCACAF.
However, consider this for a second. Mexico has played in Canada four times over the last 22 years and have recorded zero wins.
“They are an athletic, fast, and well coached team” said Juan Carlos Osorio, the Colombian-born head coach of the Mexican team. “If they play like they can, it will be a very difficult match for us.”
Perhaps more importantly, the Canadian Men’s National Team has improved substantially since Spanish head coach Benito Floro took charge in mid-2013 (yes, Mexico has a Colombian coach and Canada has a Spanish one).
“The improvement is the result of the players understanding the system that I want to implement,” Floro argues.
It is that tactical discipline and the clear understanding of the system that the former Real Madrid coach is deploying that is the key factor in allowing Canada to lose only two games of the last 14 they have played.
Understated confidence has been the constant theme in the narrative that the Canadian players and technical staff have transmitted to the media. They acknowledge the fact that they are the underdogs but have an inherent trust that, if there is a group of players that can get a good result, it is this one.
— Breakfast Television (@BT_Vancouver) March 23, 2016
Mexico has been guilty of arrogance in previous qualifying processes. Being the “giant of CONCACAF” as they like to dub themselves, there is always an implied assumption and expectation that they will take full points from each and every game.
Over the last week I have read columns in the Mexican media with headlines such as “Six Maple Points” and discussions about who and how many goals will be scored. Dropping points is not even an option.
That arrogance has cost the Mexicans dearly in the past.
During the qualifying process towards Brazil 2014 it came down to a game between the United States and Panama. The Panamanians needed to lose in order for Mexico to earn their way to the World Cup. When full-time came along, the Panamanians were in the lead much to the collective Mexican anguish. But the Americans did as the Americans do and they scored twice in aggregate time, ironically, gifting Mexico to a ticket to the World Cup.
Mexico arrived in Vancouver with their full arsenal and everything points towards the fact that they will be using it. The Mexican team came for the win and they will flex their offensive muscle to get it.
Canada will need a great deal of mental fortitude, concentration and tactical acumen to weather the Mexican storm.
— Selección Nacional (@miseleccionmx) March 24, 2016
Trying to go blow to blow with Mexico will not fare well for Floro’s team. However, the eagerness to attack will open Mexico up and leave them vulnerable to counterattacks. Canada needs to be intelligent when deciding to go into attacking transition and, if applied effectively, it could pay dividends. Big dividends.
A win on Friday looks difficult to achieve but it is certainly not impossible. A win on Friday would be historic for this country. However, regardless of the result, Vancouver has already proved that soccer can and is a relevant sport in this city and in this country.
For now, enjoy the fiesta de fútbol, everyone.