It's a tale of two games on the way to the World Cup
A week ago, soccer fans in Canada were over the moon – and casual observers were pretty impressed, too – after the men beat Panama in what was a stirring World Cup qualifying game in Toronto.
It was a great event and a great game, rabid fans actually supporting the home team, a solid result; everyone went away happy and dreaming of Rio in 2014.
Now that over-the-moon feeling’s pretty much gone after last night’s 2-0 loss in Panama and the road to the World Cup all of a sudden is a lot more rocky than it was.
But what of Canada?
I’m going to leave the Xs and Os to those who know far more about the game than I (Hello, Cathal and Daniel) but the result tells you as much about world-class soccer as anything else.
I used to think basketball, with its sometimes unique gyms and momentum-swinging crowds was the sport with the greatest home facility advantage but no more.
It’s world class soccer by a mile.
I don’t know if it was the zany fans surrounding the team hotel the nights leading up to the game or the screaming fans at the stadium or that uneasy feeling inexperienced teams in all sports get playing big games in hostile surroundings but it’s been proven time and again that the road is not kind to any travelling football team.
And Canada, for all that it did well in Toronto last week, finding a way to replicate that on the road was impossible.
Guess the biggest thing is that there’s still one home game to go and it’s a way off and if they can do the same thing at BMO Field next time that they did last time, all might be well in the world once again.
The World Cup is the most significant single-sport event in the world, there isn’t a world championship that can hold a candle to it and even for people who don’t follow the sport religiously, it captures the imagination like nothing else.
And if Canada wants to be seen globally as a true sporting nation, there are those who will not take us seriously until we at least qualify for a World Cup.
It’s monstrously difficult to gain admittance to it – it’s the most difficult team event to qualify for in any sport – and now Canada has to prove its mettle once again.
Sure, a draw in Panama would have been good and win would have been tremendous but there are still a couple of games left and the job is still doable.
But, as we’ve seen, games at home are far different than games on the road, even the marginally skilled teams can somehow find the necessary magic when they are buoyed by home audiences and comfortable surroundings.
Canada proved something to itself – and the soccer world – last Friday night; the gains they made there were significant and I don’t know that anyone really expected a result Tuesday night.
But if they capture that same magic the next time out, it’ll be a big story again and the good feelings will flow.
It’s sport, it’s up and down and highs and lows and it’s wonderful.
So I’m at a reception with 30 NBA PR types and a gaggle of league poobahs and the consensus of the few I talked to at length is that the HOTH are going to be more interesting this year than they have been in some time.
No one knows how good they’ll be but the chatter was that they’re better and no longer an afterthought.
Make you fans feel a bit better?
Oh yeah, if you want fancy-schmancy in Chicago, I give you The Paris Club, where we had a wee bit of a reception, but if you’re downtown and looking for a spot that’s real, go to O’Neil’s on Wells and tell ‘em we said hello.
Great spot, owned by a guy who works for the Bulls, and a long night of good stories.
And, no, it wasn’t like this joint, nor was the music as good.
Finally found something we do better than Chicago.
Teachers labour disputes.
Arrived here to find the streets around the hotel packed with demonstrating, on-strike teachers who aren’t in the classroom, much to the chagrin of buddies who have to find child care.
No, I don’t know the specifics of the dispute, nor do I really know the intricacies of the fight in our neck of the woods but I do think we have the right answer to working it out.
And thus endeth the political portion of today’s offering.
Let’s start it, please.
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