The kids of Brazil can teach Canada

Kids play soccer on a street outside Independencia stadium before the start of the Argentine...

Kids play soccer on a street outside Independencia stadium before the start of the Argentine national team training session in preparation for 2014 World Cup in Belo Horizonte, June 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:08 PM ET

SALVADOR, Brazil -- Meandering home from the Arena Fonte Nova Friday night, I came across the Chinese version of me: Late 20s, reporting on a tournament that's bigger than words and wondering why our home countries are so far away.

No, not in distance, but in soccer terms.

What began as a fellow reporter asking another for directions turned into a 10-minute walk and talk about the sorry state of soccer back home.

In soccer terms, "China is the Asian Confederation's version of Canada in CONCACAF," I said, a smile on face to hopefully not offend.

"If that makes sense," I added.

"Yes," he responded. "Maybe."

Similar to Canada, the Chinese were ousted early by Iraq and Jordan during AFC qualifying.

Canada, as you know by now, was eliminated from World Cup 2014 contention in embarrassing fashion, an 8-1 loss during third-round qualifying in Honduras.

Two separate nations, trying to qualify in average confederations, on similar paths to nowhere.

But why?

Canada and China are two massive countries with relatively high soccer participation that struggle every four years.

The answer was all around us.

Kids, seven- and eight-years-old, playing in the streets, with balls most kids in Canada would scoff at.

They were barefoot, playing on pavement, kicking the ball so hard it made my toes curl just thinking of the pain.

There was no organization to it. Nobody wearing new shoes -- or shirts of any kind for that matter.

It was hot and humid; the pavement so warm you could fry an egg if you waited long enough.

"Everyone here wants to be Neymar," a local here in Salvador told me.

They want to play for "A Selecau," the Brazilian national team.

For most in this impoverished town, soccer is more than sport.

While the love and passion for the game has to be present, there are other incentives at play -- incentives kids in Canada and China aren't forced to ponder at a young age.

"School doesn't matter," another local told me.

For those who begin life in a Brazilian favela (slum), soccer is one of the few ways out, if not the only way out.

The financial rewards can be massive.

Young players -- Neymar was barely a teenager -- can be offered contracts with Brazilian clubs before they need to shave.

Now then, that's not to say this is the only way for Canada to meet its true potential.

Canada doesn't need to suddenly drop its middle class into poverty in order to churn out decent footballers.

As developed countries in Europe have shown, academy systems and similar development programs can produce quality that's at least close to the same -- quality that's at least capable of getting a country to a World Cup.

At the moment, though, Canada has neither of these systems of development.

It's no secret that the game isn't close to organic anywhere from Toronto to B.C.

The only time (most) kids spend with a ball at their feet is at practice three times a week.

On the weekends, the final scoreline is what matters most, with kids younger than 10 already playing for trivial trophies.

They don't take chances out of fear of being benched. And, as a result, fail to hone the foundation of their game at a young age.

In the streets here in coastal Salvador, you begin to understand the never-ending football factory that continues to churn out Brazilian title contenders decade after decade.

You hear tales about it north of the equator, but seeing it first hand is the only way to comprehend how far head youth players in a top footballing nation actually are.

Most of them aren't coached. They're schooling for the day consists of perfecting Neymar's tricks rather than learning arithmetic.

Again, not necessarily a good thing, but a factor in the process nonetheless.

"It's in our blood," one man attempted to explain.

It's similar in Mexico and Costa Rica, which shocked the world Saturday afternoon by beating Uruguay.

That's who Canada is competing against if it wants to get to another World Cup, where it hasn't been since 1986.

Unlike Canada, the game is all around you in those CONCACAF countries, which is first and foremost the reason Canada is nowhere near Brazil -- in distance and World Cup terms.

 


Videos

Photos