JONES: Canada has officially become a soccer nation

John Herdman’s national team put three exclamation marks behind that statement in January’s three-match window of FIFA World Cup qualifiers that ended in a 2-0 win at El Salvador on Wednesday .

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It was actually proclaimed internationally in November after the two huge victories over Costa Rica and Mexico in -9C temperatures with snow banks on the sides of the pitch at Edmonton’s ‘Estadio Iceteca’ and a bit less than 100,000 fans frozen in the stands.

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Canada had officially become a soccer nation.

John Herdman’s national team put three exclamation marks behind that statement in January’s three-match window of FIFA World Cup qualifiers that ended in a 2-0 win at El Salvador on Wednesday .

Canada, for only the second time in our nation’s history, is going to the World Cup. (*Only the remotest mathematical possibilities could possibly prevent this from happening now.)

So consider today what happened.

It’s easy for me. I covered the 1986 World Cup in Mexico when Canada played in a group with France, Hungary and the Soviet Union in Leon and Irapuato and didn’t win a single game or score a single goal.

This Canadian team has scored at least one goal in all 11 games and with seven wins and four draws, they are yet to lose a game.

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When qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup began, Canada was considered a “minnow” and very few people could name more than one player in the squad.

Almost everyone knew about Edmonton international sensation Alphonso Davies who joined Bayern Munich as a teenager and within a short time was recognized as the world’s No.1 left-back.

Davies, of course, had a lot to do with Canada qualifying for this World Cup the hard way, without a host nation pass to the 2026 FIFA World Cup Canada-USA-Mexico.

But that group played games in Honduras and El Salvador in high humidity sandwiched around a Canadian winter game in Hamilton without Alphonso Davies in the lineup for all three games due to a COVID-related medical complication. -19.

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Suddenly Canadians, especially transplanted old football snobs with whom their notoriously short arms and deep pockets wouldn’t have reached to find the price of a ticket to watch Canadian players play in the past, saw the quality indisputable by Jonathan David, Cyle Larin, Atiba Hutchinson, Milan Borjan and others.

Most of these guys had the option of choosing their home country to pursue a World Cup dream like Calgary’s Owen Hargeaves did when selecting England.

They chose Canada.

When this team arrives in Qatar for the World Cup, a significant percentage of the population will be able to name most of the other players to you.

Suddenly, because of the focus on the men’s team, people forget that it was the women who were the Canadian flag bearers for Canada’s new status in sport.

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At the turn of the century, FIFA established a U-19 Women’s World Championship and awarded the inaugural edition to Edmonton.

I remember going to Calgary to watch a Canada-Brazil pre-tournament game in an 800-seat stadium.

That’s when I first saw Christine Sinclair and our North girls and after all those years of covering our men’s teams trying to kill the game and “win” a draw-nil, I saw a team that insisted on pushing forward and trying to create goals.

And as Edmonton would soon find out, these Canadian players had character and personality. The city fell in love with them and produced remarkable crowds, including a near-full crowd for the golden goal final won by the United States against Canada.

Then FIFA boss Sepp Blatter called it ‘ballistic’ and said ‘the future of football is female’.

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In 2015, Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup with a large crowd for the opening match at Commonwealth Stadium. And last summer in Tokyo, Canada won the gold medal at the Olympic Games.

Preliminary plans, your correspondent has learned, are in place for the Canadians to play a celebration tour match at Commonwealth Stadium in April, as they have already done in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, but are also making a special evening for retirement and the last career. game for Stony Plain Olympic Gold Medalist Stephanie Labbe.

In good weather, they deserve the same kind of crowd that Edmonton produced for Alphonso Davies and the men here in November.

It is also their story.

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