Nightmare ending

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Asmir Begovic was so upset he initially waved off media requests following Canada's 2-0 loss to Congo on Sunday.

It was out of character for the Canadian goalkeeper, but exemplified how devastated the hosts were to see their tournament come to an end.

To his credit, Begovic did stop and talk, uncertain of what went wrong.

"We worked for this for so long and to see it come to an end in a flash it's so disappointing," Begovic said. "But we did go out and play hard and unfortunately things didn't go our way. Hopefully we can learn from this."

Not even in their worst nightmares had the Canadians envisioned things going the way they did. They were dominated in their first game against Chile and lost on Canada Day 3-0. They seemed disinterested in the first half against Austria and only got into the match after falling behind by a goal. Only then did the team abandon its defensive approach, push another striker up front and begin to venture forward.

BLOWN CHANCES

In the end it was to no avail as they could not find an equalizer which would have given them a fighting chance to advance heading into their final group game against Congo.

Instead Canada went into the game needing to win by three goals to advance - a daunting task considering they had only generated a pair of shots on goal in their first two games.

"We created an unbelievable amount of chances in that last game, we had a lot of set pieces," Begovic said. "We were that close to scoring that first goal. Unfortunately that didn't happen. But I haven't seen many games like that where we created so many chances.

"It was frustrating to watch because I know all the work the boys put in, and they were trying so hard but they just couldn't get things rolling. Who knows? If we would have been able to score that first goal early on, maybe we could have been able to score four or five."

If anything, the game against Congo proved, when necessary, Canada could push forward and create chances.

Their downfall was a lack of finishing around the net. Tosaint Ricketts could have had three goals in the first half alone, but did not exhibit a goal-scorer's killer instinct. That's the reason he was substituted at halftime.

But it begged the question as to why Canada's approach to the tournament was so negative to begin with? Why was the team so afraid to come forward in their previous two games? Why was defending more important than attacking?

"We showed that we have the offensive players that can come forward," said striker Andrea Lombardo. "We have players that can create opportunities, that's no doubt?"

As host there was a certain number of expectations on this team heading into the tournament. They were at the very least expected to get out of the first round. However, based on previous U-20 tournaments, perhaps those expectations were a little high.

This was the ninth time Canada has played in this tournament and on only two previous occasions have they advanced to the second round.

In 2003 they did make it to the tournament quarter-finals - Canada's best ever showing - but it was a narrow 1-0 victory over Burkina Faso which got them there.

NOT THE PRESSURE

"There's always pressure there, there's always expectations when you're the host country," Ricketts said. "But I don't think that was the problem, it wasn't the pressure. I think it was just unfortunate that we didn't perform as well as we could have each game and we could have done a lot better."

In the end the players stood up and took responsibility for the poor showing. They all headed their separate ways yesterday.

As for head coach Dale Mitchell, he'll now take charge of the Canadian senior team in their quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

That doesn't instil an enormous amount of confidence for Canadian soccer fans considering the performance of the Under-20 side.

"You always look back and see what you could have done differently," Lombardo said.

"But at the end of the road we're eliminated, whoever's gone through has gone through and we're going home. There's no reason to make excuses, we didn't qualify for the next round because we weren't good enough in the first two games."


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