Under-17 soccer players fail to qualify for World Cup play

By RON FANFAIR

Lack of preparation and a proper structure at home to develop young players contributed to Canada’s failure to qualify for the International Soccer Federation’s (FIFA) Under-17 soccer World Cup in Nigeria later this year, suggests assistant coach, Patrick Tobo.

Canada drew its opening match with Honduras 1-1 and lost to the United States 4-2 and Cuba 2-1 to finish second to last in its group in the just concluded Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Associations of Football’s (CONCACAF) qualifying competition in Tijuana, Mexico.

“The squad was assembled in November and we had two-week camps in Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica and then a five-day camp in San Diego on our way to the tournament,” Tobo told Share. “That was insufficient time to get a competitive team together for a major competition. The guys played as good at they could but asking them to qualify was too much.

“The gap between Canada and the rest of the countries in the region is not large. However, our Under-17 players compete like kids unlike the Mexicans and Americans who play the game like adults. They are more mature and they understand what it takes to compete and win at this level. We are, unfortunately, not at that stage as yet.”

The squad left Tijuana, situated on the United States-Mexico border, two Mondays ago just as the swine flu outbreak in that country was on the brink of becoming a global pandemic. Tobo said the players and management were concerned about the situation.

“There was some anxiety even though we were far away from Mexico City,” he said. “Nobody on our squad displayed any of the symptoms and we had a doctor with us who took some precautionary steps.”

Due to growing concerns about the outbreak of the virus, CONCACAF called off the tournament’s semi-finals and final.

“I think it was the right decision because the regional qualifiers were already determined,” said Tobo, who represented Cameroon in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 1981 in Australia and the FIFA World Cups in 1982 and 1990 before coming to Canada 17 years ago. “Life is more important and you don’t want to take chances.”

The United States, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica will represent CONCACAF in the youth World Cup in Nigeria from October 24 to November 15.

The Canadian Under-17 team is the latest men’s squad to fail to advance to a FIFA World Cup final.

“We have got to change the way we do business,” Tobo said. “We need to have a program and a good league system in place that will help to develop our players. Our players also need to be exposed to a high level of competition as the Mexicans and Americans are. Look how far the U.S. program has come since 1994 when they became serious about advancing the sport. They have a solid structure in place with more money and programs to develop their players and that’s why they are better than us at this stage.”

Tobo, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Yaounde, was a Canadian National Soccer League All-Star with the Toronto Astros and Toronto Italia before becoming a coach. He began working with the Brampton East Soccer Club in 2000 while running his own development academy.

The Ontario Soccer Association instructor and Ontario Under-15 head coach has also been a Team Ontario and Ontario Boys Under-14 head coach and an assistant coach with the national team that participated in the 2005 Francophone Games in Niamey, Niger.

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