The analogy of countries setting out on a journey that they hope leads to the World Cup Finals is hardly new and certainly not original.
But if you bear with it then Canada’s possible trip to the 2014 tournament starts with making sure that they get out of the driveway before they can hit the highway.
Not surprisingly Canada was not one of the six top seeds in the CONCACAF section of the qualifying draw and as such they are forced to take a longer route starting with round two. (Round one was reserved for ten of the smaller Caribbean countries with the five winners moving to round two).
Canada also started in round 2 last time but there has been a change in format for this qualification tournament. For 2010 round two was simply a home-and-home series with the winner moving into a round three group stage and then to the final round of six teams playing a mini-league.
This time round 2 is a mini-league with only the winner of the four team group moving on.
The increase in the number of matches in round 2 from two to six should be to Canada’s liking. The opportunity to play more games should only help before the bigger more powerful nations of CONCACAF enter the fray.
Perhaps another slight advantage that falls under the category of “silver-lining” is a failure to move into the knock-out stage of the recent Gold Cup.
On occasion good showings at the Gold Cup have been a source of misplaced optimism by Canadian fans. An inability to match fans expectations when World Cup qualifying came around only exacerbated a general cynicism relating to the national team and an understandable witch-hunt for fall-guys – the Canadian Soccer Association often an easy target.
Tonight (Friday) the island nation of St. Lucia provides Canada’s first test at BMO Field in Toronto, before the team heads to Puerto Rico for another game on Tuesday. St. Kitts and Nevis rounds off the four-team qualifying group.
The group winner moves on to round three where they will face Honduras, Cuba and one other qualifier – probably a dangerous Panama team.
If Canada has a hope of making it to Brazil in three years time then one specific area where they have to show significant improvement is in their home results. Quite simply in order to have a chance of qualifying from CONCACAF home form must be close to impeccable.
Canada’s home form since they successfully qualified for Mexico 1986 has let them down badly. Without home games becoming synonymous with three points Canada may make it on to the World Cup highway but the tires will be flat.
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