Soccer tilt was a joke

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Suckers!!!

Yes, there were more than 22,000 at the Rogers Centre Wednesday -- me included -- to watch what was announced as the clash of the titans, a soccer match between the national teams of Italy and Serbia and Montenegro.

What a joke.

With one possible exception, the only person attached to Italy's national soccer team was, perhaps, the physiotherapist. Even that I'm not certain of.

As the date of the match approached, some of the New York organizers admitted that not all the players were members of the real Azzurri. Otherwise, the number of suckers at the Rogers Centre paying up to $135 for a ticket might have grown to 50,000.

It is a shame that the Canadian Soccer Association meekly accepted what transpired here. Any other country's national soccer association -- in Britain, Europe or South America --would have insisted that at least eight regular World Cup players be in the lineup before endorsing the match. But that takes guts and the CSA is sadly lacking in that department. All the CSA does is beg the FIFA -- the game's top organization -- for financial support.

But what else could you expect from an association that for years has been keeping its national team ranked up to 50 places behind such economic powerhouses as Senegal and Tunisia. In fact, the Canadian national team recently has been ranked in the 70s, 80 and 90s, with the exception of the year it won the Gold Cup. That year Canada ranked in the 50s among the nations.

Big deal. What an accomplishment. That position was achieved when the national team was coached by Holger Osieck, who was later let go by the "wise men" of the CSA. Even that ranking was followed by a 40-place drop over the past three years.

Getting back to Wednesday's match, exhibition encounters, may they be in soccer, cricket or tiddly-winks, should offer the fans some entertainment. However, Wednesday's match offered very little for the flag-waving, fire-cracker tossing fans, with the exception of the half-time opera singers.

What the organizers forgot is that Toronto-area soccer fans are used to watching soccer played by the English national side with all its stars, Brazil with the incomparable Pele, the full teams of the Glasgow Rangers of Scotland, AC Milan of Italy, Stade Reims of France with nine World Cup aces in the lineup or AEK Athens of Greece. To those fans, Wednesday's game was a sham.

They were forced to watch some players pushing the ball to the opposition, as if they were colour blind. Once inside the 18-yard box, they lost the sense of direction. This, however, doesn't mean that they didn't try. They did. But the St. John's Maple Leafs -- next season's Toronto Marlies -- also tried. But would any hockey fan even contemplate comparing the Baby Leafs with the pre-locked out Maple Leafs? Not on your Nellie. Heck, the word volley wasn't in the dictionary of either of the teams Wednesday.

Illegal tackling was. It eventually resulted in a red card for Italy's team, but to its credit it managed to tie the score 1-1 playing with only 10 men. Actually, I wish the referee had sent both teams to an early shower.

On the other hand, I wish he had sent me home for a refreshing shower.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

The University of Toronto will honour dean Bruce Kidd June 24 on the occasion of his investiture as an Officer of the Order of Canada. The festivity will take place at Massey College ... One-time Canadian Davis Cupper Paul Willey passed away in British Columbia recently ... Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and advertising executive Colleen McAnoy were married last weekend ... The Toronto Golden Jets won the silver medal in the recent Canadian Tier 2 water polo championship, losing to the Hamilton Aquatics in the Montreal final ... Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski was the runner-up in the recent National Newspaper Awards contest. Had he been a little more left wing, he may have won the award.


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