After Canada certified for the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, it gave the impression to be the primary of many extra journeys onto soccer’s greatest stage.
“It felt like we would broke the voodoo. We would certified for one and we’ll qualify for all the opposite World Cups,” says ahead Carl Valentine, one of many gamers who tried to assist Canada attain the 1994 World Cup.
“However that wasn’t to be.”
Canada has did not qualify eight successive occasions since Mexico ’86 and hasn’t come significantly shut most of these occasions.
The closest the Canadians have come to returning to the World Cup was forward of USA ’94, when considered one of Canada’s strongest-ever squads fell penalty kicks away from a do-or-die showdown towards soccer icon Diego Maradona.
In late 1992 by means of early ’93, the ultimate spherical of qualifying pitted Canada towards El Salvador, Honduras and perennial powerhouse Mexico, with the Canadians going through three highway video games in unfriendly situations.
“Bands enjoying till 4 within the morning, vehicles honking, elevators that occur to cease working, they’re going to put you on the 13th ground with no air-con,” says midfielder Nick Dasovic of qualifying matches in Latin America.
“Impulsively I appeared up,” he remembers of the time he was stretchered off injured in El Salvador. “And there have been baggage upon baggage of urine flying by means of the air.”
However Canada held its composure and completed second within the group — not sufficient to qualify for the World Cup outright, however sufficient to place the Canadians by means of to a two-game, total-goals playoff towards Australia, the champion of the Oceania area.
“We felt snug and assured that we may win that sequence,” says ahead Alex Bunbury.
Battle in Alberta
An eventful first leg unfolded on a gusty Alberta afternoon earlier than near 30,000 followers at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
“We appeared up and all the things was crimson and white,” Dasovic says of the gang. “That is why we beloved enjoying there.”
Australian goalkeeper Robert Zabica was despatched off after 17 minutes, however the guests struck first when an arching cross compelled Dasovic into a clumsy clearing try that he ended up knocking into his personal aim.
“The ball got here in and I went to hit it and the wind took it,” remembers Dasovic. “You recover from it.”
However a second-half rally produced two Canadian targets in seven minutes — first from Mark Watson, then from Domenic Mobilio.
The sport ended with Canada taking a slim 2-1 lead again to Australia for the return leg.
“With the wind behind us within the second half, I assumed we should always’ve scored three or 4,” says goalkeeper Craig Forrest.
Nonetheless, supervisor Bob Lenarduzzi was optimistic.
“I felt going again to Australia we gave ourselves a superb probability.”
In Sydney for the second leg, the house aspect got here out with a primary half that supervisor Eddie Thomson known as “the perfect I’ve ever seen from an Australian crew” and took a 1-Zero first-half lead.
Lyndon Hooper responded for Canada earlier than Mehmet Durakovic’s looping header tied the total-goals match at 3-all with lower than 15 minutes to play.
A goal-less additional time despatched the groups to a penalty shootout with their World Cup fates within the steadiness.
“In all probability the worst penalties we have ever taken,” remembers Forrest.
Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer, simply 20 years previous and making his first worldwide begin, made two diving saves to his proper — first off Bunbury after which from veteran Mike Sweeney.
“To today I keep in mind I assumed I hit it completely good,” says Bunbury of his saved penalty.
“Simply goes to indicate what can occur.”
Australia scored on all 4 of its penalties, knocking out the Canadians and organising one other two-game playoff with a then-to-be-decided South American nation.
“Shootouts are shootouts,” Lenarduzzi instructed the Canadian Press after the sport. “It’s kind of like Russian Roulette.”
On the identical day that Australia celebrated, Argentina was in a state of panic, having misplaced 2-1 to upstart Colombia.
Led by a now-fading, 33-year-old Maradona, Argentina misplaced once more to the Colombians three weeks later, this time by a surprising 5-Zero rating in Buenos Aries.
The end result pushed them right into a regional playoff versus Australia, with the winner advancing to the ’94 World Cup.
In the meantime, the Canadians watched and puzzled what may need been.
“It’d have been an unbelievable expertise,” says Valentine of a Maradona matchup. “Virtually like enjoying in a World Cup.”
The end result left Canada ruing its misses much more as a rusty Argentina wanted a lucky own-goal within the second half of the second leg to advance towards the Australians.
“They had been beatable,” says Bunbury of Argentina.
On the World Cup, Maradona’s Argentina proved Bunbury right, ending third of 4 groups of their group and managing to beat solely World Cup debutantes Greece and Nigeria earlier than crashing out within the second spherical.
For a lot of Canadians, the sting of ’93 nonetheless burns.
“I do not suppose there’s been a greater pool of Canadian soccer gamers,” says Bunbury.
Whereas the frustration of not repeating Canadian soccer historical past endures, understanding they got here nearer than every other Canada squad within the 25 years since stays a degree of pleasure among the many gamers.
“The ’93 crew was pretty much as good as any we have ever had,” says Forrest. “If we had it now, we would qualify fairly comfortably.”