Shape up or ship out

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Canada Day was not exactly favourable to Canadian sportsmen.

Not only did the Blue Jays lose their fourth consecutive game on their western swing, but the biggest disappointment was created by Canada's Under-20 team in its World Cup opener against Chile.

If they don't improve in tomorrow's clash with the Austrians in Edmonton, the much-heralded Canadian juniors might as well kiss the World Cup tournament goodbye.

So, where should Team Canada's improvement come from?

That is a complex question and deserves a complex answer.

As they say in the old country, the fish smell from the head. Ergo, much of the blame for the fiasco against Chile has to rest on the shoulders of coach Dale Mitchell.

Master Mitchell was a decent player in his day. However, that doesn't mean he is capable of transferring his own talents on to his players. In other words, a good player doesn't necessarily make a good coach.

To give you an example, Sir Stanley Matthews was a brilliant right winger. But he was less than that as a coach in Britain. When he came to Toronto to play for Toronto City in 1961 he was 50 years old. Yet, he still had opposing defenders slide on their backside in an effort to make him part with the ball, which never happened.

However, when asked about the style the teams were playing back then, he thought he was being was asked a question about aerospace and couldn't answer.

As for Team Canada U-20, the squad has to show up in Edmonton tomorrow with much more enthusiasm, dedication and determination.

The Canadians have to hustle to make up for the lack of talent. They have to realize that playing off the ball is just as important as playing with the ball. That's what the Chilean players did and that's why their mates had no trouble finding them. Of course, our defence helped the Chileans' cause by not bothering to check the outside wingers until after they had received uncontested passes!

The Canadian players tried to outmanoeuvre the South Americans with the long ball. The trouble was that the fleet-footed Chileans got to almost every ball before a Canadian could even smell the leather and nearly always out-jumped/out-timed the inexperienced Canucks for headers from long kicks out of the goal. It was particularly frustrating to watch goal kick after goal kick throughout the first half sail high into the air when the team was going against the wind.

Moreover, the Canadian defenders should introduce themselves to their partners before the game against Austria because they acted as confused as a Toronto City Hall conclave. And they were slower than an aging lineman trying to stop a speedy punt returner as they watched in mesmerized-like fashion some of the fancy moves put on by the Chilean players.

And the Canadian attack? Well, it didn't exist. The poor striker must have felt like Mats Sundin thinking he was playing on a helicopter line -- one with no wings. Sure, they had two guys patrolling the flanks, but they rarely saw the ball because the midfield was as weak as Paris Hilton's alibis.

Even when they did get the ball, they were swarmed by at least two Chilean defenders and not helped by teammates coming to the ball to provide multiple passing options.

The concept of "switching" the ball from one side of the field to the other appeared to be a novel concept to our boys though the Chileans used it repeatedly. And the basic concept of continually establishing triangles to create a solid, controlled ground passing game also appeared to have been omitted from the playbook.

Hilton, sometimes, is an actress. Team Canada's players could learn theatrics from the Chileans. They played dead on the slightest touch, looked like they needed to be taken off on a stretcher, had a sip of water and ran back on to BMO Field full of pep seconds after falling as if they had been shot. Some of the Chileans could have won an Oscar for their performance. The worst part is that the referee bought it.

And the referees as a whole? Don't get me going on that. Particularly the Colombian who awarded a penalty kick in favour of Portugal against the gallant team of New Zealand 22 seconds after an alleged incident. If that was to be a joke, it was a pretty bad one.

And if these U-20 World Cup matches are supposed to be diving exhibitions, why not hire a judge from FINA (World Aquatics Federation) to make sure that these incompetent whistletooters stop handing out yellow cards as if they were candy -- and certainly stop them from ordering a penalty kick on a delayed call (which doesn't exist in soccer) just to make sure a team that is "supposed" to win scores, as was the case in the Portugal-New Zealand game.

In any case, tomorrow night is the time when Team Canada must regain some of its reputation by beating Austria in Edmonton.

Or, it's game over.


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