Brunt: Where’s our glass slipper?

Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP

As excitement for the World Cup ramps up, Canadians must—once again—find other teams to cheer for

It is now just a little over a month away, that magical moment when a supermodel or two, a smattering of the greatest stars of the world game and the reptilian Sepp Blatter will be gathered on a glittery stage in the resort of Costa do Sauipe, all there to play global bingo.

In its own surreal way, the World Cup draw is terrific fun, though admittedly you’d have a hard time convincing a non-believer. The Ping-Pong balls drop, the tournament takes shape, the Group of Death is declared and dreams start being dreamed about what’s to come next summer.

That’s especially the case this time around, with a shakeup in the familiar hierarchy—Belgium and Switzerland have claimed places among the top eight seeds, ensuring that each will headline a group.

Guaranteed now are at least a handful of marquee Euro-versus-Euro matchups in the first round; big sides with big expectations/delusions will know from December on that it’ll be a struggle just to advance to the last 16.

That prospect, plus a fascinating final round of qualifying playoffs still to come in November, will whet any fan’s appetite for Brazil 2014, including Canadians who love the game, and who once more find themselves in the familiar position of standing on the outside looking in.

Time to dig those faded car flags out of the basement in advance of the big honk-around, embracing any kind of Old World blood ties, legitimate or otherwise, or simply opting to be Brazilian or Spanish or German when it suits.

Time to pick a favourite for other reasons—maybe a plucky, sentimental underdog like Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Iceland, still remarkably alive now in the European playoffs, a country with approximately
the same population as London, Ont., on the verge of taking the toughest route to the tournament.

Here, all of that World Cup expectation and excitement necessarily comes tinged with regret. As another four-year football cycle draws to a close, we can’t help but pause to take stock of our domestic circumstances, and the view is anything but rosy.

So just how should we frame our crappiness? There are plenty of options.

With memories of the 8–1 loss to Honduras a year ago, arguably a historic nadir? That loss dashed Canadian fantasies, even while knowing that a better result would only have prolonged the inevitable, would only have put the men’s national team in a six-way playoff from which it certainly wasn’t good enough to emerge.

With the understanding that our national ranking in the ever-mysterious FIFA table now stands at an all-time low, 111th, sandwiched between Niger and Guatemala?

With a nod to our great neighbours to the south, a country with which we were once upon a time neck and neck in the North American soccer sweepstakes? The United States head to Brazil with a Jurgen Klinsmann–coached side ranked 13th in the world, arguably the best American team ever—which is saying something, given the fact that they made some noise in 2002 and 2010. It’s not like the Yanks can win the tournament, but with the sport’s continued growth and a reliable player pipeline, they’re only going to get better and better.

Or how about with a glance far across the Pacific at our colonial kin in Australia, a country often compared to Canada because of its similar population and because soccer there ranks far behind other national sporting obsessions? The Socceroos have punched their ticket for Brazil, qualifying out of the Asian group, and in a friendly earlier this month cruised past Canada 3–0, hardly breaking a sweat. Not long before that match, they fired their head coach, Holger Osieck—yes, the same Osieck who guided the Canadian men to their last moment of glory, the Gold Cup victory in 2000—because after qualifying for the World Cup, his team lost by successive 6–0 scores to Brazil and France in friendlies, on the road.

A Canadian would take a meaningless 0–12 against two of the sport’s superpowers—it would still feel a whole lot better than 1–8 to Honduras in a game that mattered.

A Canadian would take just about anything, given that the CMNT hasn’t won a match since that debacle last October.

A Canadian would take a World Cup under even the most hopeless circumstances, requiring any kind of arrangement with the devil, even if it meant losing all three matches and not scoring a single goal, as was the case in 1986, the only time we’ve earned an invitation.

Until then—sigh—we’ll be left crashing someone else’s party, glomming on to someone else’s triumph.

Go Iceland. We’re right there with you.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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