Expectations exceeded

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

For Canada's under-20 head coach Ray Clark, it was easy to draw a conclusion following yesterday's 1-1 draw against soccer-rich Argentina.

Clark was looking for encouraging signs as he attempts to guide Canada to next year's World Cup stage in Egypt after serving as host country last summer.

What Clark saw was an under-20 side that was hardly overwhelmed or overmatched.

What made the day more memorable was how Canada was able to rebound from a 1-0 deficit to tie the game a minute later.

"That was a sign of strong character,'' Clark beamed afterward. "To work so hard against a team such as Argentina and recover like they did is a testament to their character."

About the only negative in a friendly that went positively well was the crowd at BMO Field.

The weather wasn't exactly conducive to outdoor activity, but to have only 5,136 fans show up was a slap in the face to the alleged beautiful game.

As you might expect, the Argentines gave the thumbs down to the artificial surface, a stinging criticism that is often expressed by visitors accustomed to the comfort and control that comes with playing on natural grass.

Despite the empty seats, the teams managed to produce a quality show.

"To be perfectly blunt, we exceeded expectations,'' Clark said.

Canada tried to make life miserable for the Argentines at midfield.

When Argentina did break through, 'keeper Adam Street stood tall in a first-half display that was nothing short of brilliant.

Athletic and focused, Street made six saves in his 45 minutes, including a highlight reel stop on an Eduardo Salvio salvo.

Street, Gabe Gala and Derek Gaudet earned the praises of Argentina coach Sergio Batista.

Jonaton Lopez opened the scoring in the 59th minute, but Canada quickly countered in the 60th minute on a header from Shaun Saiko.

"We showed how much character we have,'' said Saiko, who hails from Alberta. "When you get down, you want to come back as quickly as possible.

"I thought we played well after that. Overall, we're happy."

Saiko's finish was clinical, going wide of the Argentine defence and converting a Gala cross into the back of the net.

"This will give us a lot of confidence as we move forward,'' captain Nana Attakora-Gyan of Brampton said.

Attakora-Gyan, Gala and Marcus Haber are the three holdovers from last year's under-20 side that failed to score a goal in three World Cup games.

The Canadian triumvirate also helped to christen BMO Field when Canada played host to Argentina last year, an exhibition won by the visitors 2-1.

The Argentines went on to win their sixth under-20 World Cup title, cementing the country's reputation as a soccer power, regardless of age group.

Canada has a long, long way to go before it can be mentioned in the same sentence as Argentina, but at least for one day it was just as good.


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