Howard makes World Cup predictions

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Punch Imlach, the four-time Stanley Cup winning coach with the Maple Leafs, once told me that making predictions is for gypsies. But I found out that not all the sports people who are making predictions are gypsies.

Take Dick Howard, for instance.

The former standout goalkeeper of Canada's national soccer team hesitated very little when predicting that Brazil and England will meet in this year's World Cup final, even though the recently elected president of the Canadian Soccer Association -- Colin Linford -- picked the Netherlands to win the top prize.

Howard has a lifelong association with soccer. He began kicking ... er ... stopping the ball in his native England. Then, he came to North America to star in the North American Professional Soccer League for Detroit and Rochester, as well as for the Canadian national team.

His knowledge of the game propelled him in 1986 to the position of technical director of the CSA and two years later, he was named coaching instructor of FIFA, the world's governing soccer body. In 1998, Howard was asked to sit on FIFA's Technical and Development Committee. This year, he'll cover his sixth World Cup as radio and television commentator.

"I think Brazil will be tough to beat," Howard said. "I think they could field two teams and those two teams could meet in the final.

"Below Brazil, you could name seven or eight teams with about the same chance of making the final. I believe England -- even without Wayne Rooney -- has a shot at making it. Then there's, the Netherlands with a strong team. You can never discount Germany, particularly when playing at home. Other teams that could challenge for a place in the final are Argentina, France, Spain and Italy. Mexico could be considered a dark horse."

Howard is not placing the emphasis on the United States, even though the Americans are ranked fourth on FIFA's official list. He doesn't expect much from the Czech Republic, in spite of having superstar Pavel Nedved in the lineup. He also discounts all African as well as Asian countries, based on past performances.

However, the former pro goalie has high hopes for Canada. Not in this year's World Cup, of course, but in future ones.

"The Canadian national team, under coach Frank Yallop, should make the World Cup finals in 2010," Howard said.

"The team is steadily improving. They proved it recently by defeating Austria in Vienna 2-0. The Canadian team also tied the U.S. and the Americans are ranked high by FIFA. These results are not accidental."

Critics will tell you that the Canadian national team doesn't have individuals such as Pele or Sir Stanley Matthews in the lineup. But, then, the Buffalo Sabres don't have any Wayne Gretzkys or Bobby Orrs on the ice at any time, but still are doing quite well in the playoffs, thank you.

Makes me wonder, which gypsy predicted that the Anaheim Mighty Ducks would be quacking against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I'll hitch up my horse and buggy, put on a gypsy outfit and start thinking about my predictions.

They'll appear in this space before the first ball is kicked in Germany. You see, my crystal ball should not be too clouded, after covering seven World Cups, including Pele's debut as a 17-year-old in 1958 in Sweden.

Is Dick Howard wearing a gypsy outfit?


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