By RON FANFAIR
Canadian soccer experienced a challenging 24-hour stretch last weekend.
The national men’s team dropped its first contest under new head coach Stephen Hart while the Under-20 women will miss the World Cup for the first time since the global event was launched eight years ago.
After finishing unbeaten in its group, Canada stumbled to 1-0 losses to Mexico in the semi-finals and Costa Rica in the third-place play-off match last Saturday in Guatemala. It was sweet revenge for the Costa Ricans who lost 1-0 to Canada in the tournament opener.
The top three teams – Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, which won the regional tournament with a 1-0 win over the Mexicans – advance to the 16-team Under-20 World Cup finals in Germany from July 13 to August 1.
“We lost the tournament based on our game against Mexico in the semi-final stage,” suggested coach Carolina Morace.
Skipper Chelsea Stewart expressed optimism that Canada will be back in the 2012 finals.
“We are a young team with lots of 1992-born players (they will be eligible in the next two years),” she said. “Hopefully, the group will use the loss as motivation for another CONCACAF championship and FIFA World Cup qualification in 2012.”
Last Sunday, Luke Shelton’s 68th minute goal was the difference in the national men side’s 1-0 loss to host country Jamaica.
“I think it was a good match,” Hart said after his first game without the interim national head coach tag. “We had a few breakdowns defensively plus Jamaica came at us for the full 90 minutes. We defended well generally.”
Egypt, meanwhile, retained the African Nations Cup and secured its record seventh continental crown last Sunday with a 1-0 win over Ghana which was seeking its first championships since 1982.
Ghana’s coach Milovan Rajevac attributed the loss to his side’s lack of experience.
“We are not so experienced and we wanted to win it so badly but in the end, the Egyptians’ experience was crucial,” he said.
Nigeria finished third with a 1-0 victory over Algeria.
And, the Confederation of African Soccer has banned Togo from the next two continental tournaments and fined the West Africans $50,000 for withdrawing from the African Nations Cup after two members of their delegation were killed when the team bus was ambushed in a gun attack in Angola two days before the start of the tournament.
Furious at the ban and fine, the Togo government is threatening legal action.
“This is a surprise decision and it means that the African soccer officials have no consideration for the lives of other human beings,” said Togo’s Interior Minister Pascal Bodjona. “This is insulting to the family of those who lost their lives and those traumatized because of the attack…We are awaiting the official notification and we are going to take legal action to resolve the matter.”
The Togo team, which wanted to compete, withdrew at their government’s request.