Canada down, but not out

Canada's Will Johnson reacts to a missed scoring chance against Austria during second half Fifa...

Canada's Will Johnson reacts to a missed scoring chance against Austria during second half Fifa U-20 soccer action at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday July 5, 2007. (Photo by Darryl Dyck/Edmonton Sun)

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 12:18 AM ET

Four years ago, their bags were packed. They were going home.

Canada had lost the first two games at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Then they shocked everybody by beating the Czech Republic in their final group game, got through as a third place team, won in the round of 16 and gave Spain a game, losing 2-1 in a quarter final.

Canada, you should know, has only won four of the 27 games our nation has played at this tournament.

Two of them came after they were in this exact same spot four years ago in the United Arab Emirates.

"We had to wait a day after we played our last game and beat the Czechs. At this tournament you have to leave 24 hours after you've been eliminated," said Canadian coach Dale Mitchell who took over the team that year and took it to Canada's only success at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

"Our bags were actually packed. We had to leave early the next morning.

"We watched the games that evening and they went our way. We got through as a third-place team with three points for the win and on goal differential of minus two."

In there somewhere is hope for Mitchell's so far hopeless group which most people have written off to be a sixth host team in 16 editions of this tournament not to get out of group play.

CONSECUTIVE LOSSES

Going into tomorrow's 6 p.m. game against Congo, they're coming off consecutive losses again.

"It's the same situation. We'd lost the first two," he said of being defeated 2-0 by Brazil and 2-1 by Australia," said Mitchell. "We played the Czech Republic in the third game and won 1-0. I'm going to have to remember what I told our guys before the game," he laughed.

Canada went on to beat African champion Burkina Faso 1-0 in the group of 16 to advance against Spain in the quarter-final.

"It was a big momentum change. Our boys were so down after losing the first two games," said Mitchell of his club, which lost 1-0 to Austria before a "late arriving" crowd of 31,579 in Commonwealth Stadium, four days after a 3-0 loss to Chile before 19,500 in Toronto.

"The biggest thing was that we played well in the third game against a good team which, like ourselves, needed a result. We performed well and eliminated them. Then when we found out we'd made it through to the group of 16, all of a sudden the boys were up, well up, for the next game."

WE'LL KNOW BY GAME TIME

The difference this time is that everybody will know before the Canada-Congo game kicks off at 6 p.m. whether a win would get either team through.

"Obviously, we'll know. That's the difference. We'll also know if we need just the win, a two-goal difference or whatever."

Mitchell looked at the group standings going into yesterday's games and could see a lot of scenarios where the Congo-Canada winner could get through.

In a 24-team FIFA tournament, the top two teams in each of the six groups go through plus four third place teams with the best records.

"There is certainly hope within the standings of the other groups," said Mitchell.

If there's still hope by game time, that will take care of his gutted group.

"We're alive," said Will Johnson. "We're a bit devastated right row. It's a tough pill to swallow, losing that game. But if we're still alive by 6 p.m. Sunday, that'll take care of everything all by itself."

A superstitious person would require that they all have their bags packed again.


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