Lotsa 'grrrr' in this gameHistory tells us this 'friendly' not so friendly
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
They call these games "friendlies". Some are. Some aren't.
This one isn't.
This one is not as unfriendly as say, oh, an English hooligan. But it's a game which has hair on it even if they all promise to shave their legs.
First of all, remember this. Canada is the team which beat Mexico 2-0 on two own goals to win the qualifying spot at the Women's World Cup.
And everybody involved knows it's going to be Canada vs. Mexico, Feb. 12, in Toluca, Mexico, to decide which country goes to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
First let's go back to qualifying in Seattle last fall. Has a team ever lost a World Cup qualifying game, men or women, 2-0 as a result of two own goals?
"It was such an unlucky game,'' said Elizabeth Gomez, one of the six American-born members of the Mexican team. "It was so unfortunate. It was so upsetting.''
It would have been an upset. Canada is 8-0 with a 24-4 for-against record vs. Mexico. Christine Sinclair & Co. scored 2-0 and 2-0 wins in Mexico in June.
February in Toluca, however, it may be a different deal. It's a location with higher elevation that Mexico City itself. Canada-Mexico. One game. Winner goes to Athens.
"It's huge,'' said Gomez. "Since we didn't have success in making it to the World Cup, the Olympics are what we are concentrating on right now.''
Canadian coach Even Pellerud doesn't want his team thinking ahead to next Feb. 2-12 in Toluca, like the Mexicans. He wants them focusing on Sept. 20 and the World Cup opener in Columbus, Ohio, against Germany. This is now, that's then. But he said when the World Cup is over, they'll be focusing on one game, Feb. 12, just like the Mexicans are now.
It's a strange Olympic qualifying scenario. The Americans are in one group, Mexico and Canada in the other group. The winner of each group goes to Athens.
Toluca is the unfair advantage.
"It is so high up,'' said Pellerud. "And it's a great stadium - about 30,000. It's a great location for the home team.''
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ...
Until a couple months ago, a 30,000-seat stadium would have been about 27,000 too many for a Mexican women's team. But a funny thing happened after Canada left them in their dust last year in Seattle.
Mexico met Japan in a home-and-home series for the final World Cup qualifying spot. The first game was played in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
The girls drew 87,000 fans. You think what happened here last year was mind-boggling?
Canada played two warm-up games against the Mexicans before their Japan series. One was in Guasave where the lights went out during the game, causing a 20-minute delay. The other was in a baseball stadium in Mazatlan where a second crowd of about 2,000 fans sat almost too far away for the players to know they were there.
Pellerud was at the game in Azteca.
"We were told they were expecting about 8,000 fans. When the game started, it looked about right. But by the end of the first half it was almost full. It was an electric atmosphere. And then we found out there were 40,000 outside of the stadium they wouldn't let in because of security reasons.
"The next day the biggest sports paper in Mexico gave the first five pages to the women's game and put men's soccer on the sixth page. Can you imagine that? In Mexico?''
Gomez said it was stunning.
"We were expecting maybe 10,000. It was the most amazing thing we'd ever seen.''
They tied Japan 2-2 but lost the away leg.
Today the Mexican girls will see 30,000 or so in Commonwealth Stadium, the largest crowd ever to watch a senior women's game on Canadian soil.
"This is a very good occasion to keep learning about Canada. It's important to prove to ourselves we can get closer,'' said coach Leonardo Cuellar.
"We respect the Canadian program as one of the most improved in the world. The fitness level and the technique are better every time we play them.
''Canada is more and more capable of playing the game, and in a very nice way, every time we play them, too. And the silver medal for Canada at the Pan-Am Games with a very young team tells me those players are going to push these players to a higher level.''
Cuellar says Canadian girls are now kicking soccer balls around at a very early age. Most Mexican girls don't until high school.
That's why 12 American-born players were on the Mexican World Cup team in '99, double the number now.
"We're not closing the door,'' he said of all the female Owen Hargreaves crossing the Rio Grande. "But we have to develop local girls. It's a long process. Sometimes I think we're going too fast, sometimes, too slow, but I know we're going forward.''
Another thing he knows.
In Mexico, they're with you win or tie.
Which brings us back to today's game.
For Mexico it matters.
"It always does when you play Canada,'' said Gomez.