If you can't bear to look at this hit 'n' now.....
For those of you who want just the score then I can tell you that the first leg of the Canada vs Australia World Cup qualifying match resulted in a 2-1 victory to Canada.
Australia : Robert Zabica (GK), Milan Blagojevic, Ned Zelic, Alex Tobin, Frank Farina, Aurelio Vidmar, Graham Arnold (c), Jason van Blerk Robbie Slater, Mehmet Durakovic, Paul Okon Coach : Eddie Thompson Canada : Craig Forrest (GK), Frank Yallop, Mike Sweeney, Nick Dasovic, Colin Miller(c), Hooper, Alex Bunbury, Dale Mitchell, Domenic Mobilio, Mark Watson, John Limniatias Coach : Bob LenarduzziReferee : Arturo Carter (Mexico)...Mexico, yeah go figure.
Now I'm actually quite fond of Canada. I travelled across the country on the train and I can clearly recall the virgin snow and massive icicles hanging off the cliffs of the Rocky Mountains. I remember looking at Niagara falls and travelling up the CN Tower in Toronto. Most of all I remember the month or so I spent in Huron street Public School, and the Loblaws store on the corner. (Well that and the -35C I lived through in Regina). Nice people, great coffe shops and excellent shopping malls, but damnit they are not supposed to beat Australia in football games, at least not in soccer or rugby I'd be willing to concede american football to them.
As the vision from the very attractive Commonwealth stadium came through I was impressed by the crowd (which turned out to be 27,700 but I swear it looked like more) and the lush grass. There was a tremendous amount of support for the locals, as you'd expect, and I saw one or two Australian flags which made me happy. Never been to Edmonton though :-)
The first of the shock of the day (it was only 6:30am so I hadn't had any major shocks yet) was the omission of longtime Aussie captain Paul Wade. Eddie Thompson reasoned that Canada's poor performance against the slick midfield of Mexico made the more creative Paul Okon a better choice in the middle of the park. Had Australia not lost it might have been seen as a good decision, but as it turned out the loss of experience by dropping Wadey made it look like an error in judgement.
The second shock of the day was Klondike Kate. Close third was the rather obvious markings of an American Football pitch on the field. A little disconcerting, especially at the sidelines.
The game started normally enough, both sides just getting used to the conditions and, in many cases, each other. In a prematch interview deputising captain Graham 'Arnie' Arnold said Australia wouldn't be caught in the same trap as they did in New Zealand where they got bustled into playing route 1 football (something Australia is very bad at). Surprise, surprise they got bustled into playing route 1 football against Canada. The first real chance came to Alex Bunbury who tried to hook the ball over his shoulder off a throw in, he ended up just a little too high.
The game rarely developed into anything 'pretty'. Australia, inexplicably, played high balls everywhere. Whenever any real passing got underway some very determined Canadian defence put a stop to that. Australia too committed some rash tackles but Canada outscored us on that count also. The slick midfield never happened for Australia, Canada were very good at their game of rushing the Australians and not allowing them time the make the passes.
In the 17th minute the Australians effectively put any hopes of a victory to an end. Zelic, in trying to take the ball forward, had the misfortune of having a slow referee in the way. The ball bounced off Mr Carter's legs and into the path of a Canadian, who wasted no time in getting the ball to Mobilio (?). Robert Zabica saw all this and rushed off his line and fouled him. Fortunately he was quick enough to do this outside the box. Naturally he was sent off, rightly so sad though it was. However the referee didn't blow the whistle straight away because the Canadians had another player following up who spooned the ball over the open goal. *Then* the ref blew the whistle, did his red card trick, and awarded a free kick just outside the box. I was under the impression that once advantage had been given there was no way to award a free kick as well.
Mark Schwarzer was put on in place of Milan Blagojevic to fill the gap in the goal. The 20-year-old Schwarzer from Marconi had himself been left out of Australia's U20 side in Portugal 1991 because of injury and replaced by none other the Mark 'bugger the aussies' Bosnich. Now he was occupying a spot that Mark should have been in. This was Schwarzer's first senior cap. Of course with 10 men you are always going to be defending, attacks would be more difficult.
Sweeney scored himself a yellow card for bringing down Okon from behind soon after the send off. As often happens with a 10v11 match the 10 men tend to be more motivated and sometimes outplay the 11. This happened for a good part of the remainder of the half. Frank Farina also got a yellow card for more the same thing as Sweney in about the 25th minute.
Australia managed to get a series of corners at one stage which were well dealt with by Canada. Canada themselves having one or two oppertunities. The best coming from the Bunbury pass to Limniatis, the latter taking far too long to get a shot in before the Australian defence closed him down. Jason van Blerk was booked also, this time for retaliating after a foul. It wasn't really a yellow card thing but the referee seemed fairly whistle happy. About 38 minutes gone.
Only about a minute out from half time one of the few periods of maintaining possession by Australia paid off. After knocking the ball this way and that, Ned Zelic got the ball on the left side of the box and took the ball past two defenders to the goalline. His centreing shot was met by Dasovic who tried to head the ball over the bar, or glanced the header which he intended to go to the sideline...either way he scored an own goal. Australia, down to 10 men, had managed to go to 1-0. I was overjoyed but Bob Lenarduzzi sure knows his stuff.
Canada had been defending Australias lone striker, who spent most of his time in midfield, with a flat back four. This certainly hampered most attacks by Australia, but also didn't allow Canada to make full use of their numerical superiority. The second half I would much rather forget but I guess that many of you would have savoured it.
Carl Valentine and Norman Odinga came on at half time to replace Dasovic and Limniatis. A tactical move which paid off handsomely as these two players added more positive play to Canada. Canada came out more resolute and seemed to play to a far better plan, a plan which took the caution out of Canada's play and gave them more ball and hence better chances.
The equaliser came from a corner, the ball was headed goalwards and Schwarzer just managed to parry it with an outstretched hand, but Mark Watson followed up the shot and put the ball into the roof of the net. The goal gave Canada a new life and the crowd, which had been vocal throughout, gave them great support. Only 7 minutes of the second half had passed.
On this wave of enthusiasm Canada managed to go into the lead after Carl Valentine headed a wayward cross back into the centre and after two shots were blocked by Australia, Mobilio made the third attempt count. We were now 12 minutes into the second half. Australia's hopes were sinking fast and the way Canada were playing it seemed that there might be more goals to come.
For the Australians I can say little nice of this half. They were running around like headless chickens. Whenever they got the ball they couldn't wait to get rid of it. Either they hoisted the ball into the strong wind (ie a lottery rather than a pass) or they simply had the ball intercepted by Canada because the passes were nowhere near accurate enough. The lack of understanding between the Australian players, most of whom had not taken part in the 1-1-1 lead up series in Europe (loss to De Grafschaap 0-1,draw with MSV Duisburg, 1-1 and win against NEC Nijmegen, 1-0), had never been this painfully obvious.
Mick from Newcastle will be pleased to know that Jason Polak was brought into the game to replace Aurelio Vidmar with around 25 minutes to go. Vidmar had run himself into the ground chasing the ball, unfortunately he was never really the first to get to it. The whole thing was getting ludicrous Australia are capable of so much more than they showed and I wonder if it was the doing of the Canadians, or some other factor which affected their play.
All things considered perhaps Australia should have been glad not to go further behind. They almost did when a Miller throw in was headed on to Domenic Mobilio who had strayed about a metre offside. The goal was nicely taken from a tight angle, but disallowed for good reason. Nevertheless I almost had a heart attack right there and then. With 9 minutes to go the last thing Australia wanted was a goal to make it 3-1. Colin Miller almost repeated my cardiac problems when he failed to control a first time shot, again on a tight angle.
In the end I was grateful that the referee played exactly 45 minutes and no more, and grateful too that it was only 2-1. Australia was PATHETIC! I think it might have had something to do with the general aura of aussie sports recently. Only 8 hours earlier the South African Springboks taught the aussie boys a lesson in Rugby Union and Lancashire inflicted the first defeat on the touring cricket side in England only recently.
I hope Canada will go off the boil in the next two weeks because, despite all I've been told, Canada are a threat to Australia...but then again Australia is a bigger threat to Australia. After the match Eddie Thompson was positively fuming about the refereeing and the cohesion of the Aussie side. Sure having a Mexican referee was incredible, but the complaint should have been made before the game rather than after. The referee for the second leg is going to be Japanese, hmmm. As for the cohesion problem, the next two weeks should go some way to redeeming the situation. The Australians need to win in the second leg to have a chance. 1-0 will do it, but winning 3-2 will not be enough. I just hope that there are no late goals by Canada, in any case I have tickets and will let you all in on the details.