Belarus friendly a final audition for Canada's Gold Cup hopefuls
Max Bell March 28, 2011
In anticipation of an exciting summer of competitive football, there is a rejuvenated sense of determination at the team’s camp in Turkey as players compete for the right to represent Canada at the Gold Cup
Canada’s match tomorrow against Belarus is likely to be played in a virtually empty stadium in Antalya, Turkey – but the Canadian players know there is one key person they need to impress: Stephen Hart.
The team has enjoyed a rare chance to come together for an extended period of time, and the majority of the squad has been training under the guidance of coach Hart since March 21st at a luxury sports complex on the Turkish Riviera.
Following such a strong camp, there will be a number of fringe players who will be desperate to leave their mark on tomorrow’s game, but perhaps none will be more keen than centre-forward Rob Friend.
“It’s been one of the best camps we’ve had since I’ve been in the program,” Friend said.
“The boys have been very sharp, the intensity’s been really high, so everyone’s focused for the game tomorrow and obviously the games this summer in the Gold Cup.”
Friend has enjoyed a very respectable goal-scoring ratio at club level, netting approximately a goal for every three appearances in the top two divisions in Germany, but he has scored only two goals in 29 appearances for Canada.
“It’s tough, I’ve done quite well in Germany and I’ve been able to get on the end of things.”
“It ‘s tough when every time you come in to a Canada camp you’re essentially playing with a lot of new guys, it’s hard to gel and get to know each other. I’m looking forward to getting a good run of games consistently myself and I know I can put the ball in the back of the net, it’s just getting the chance. It takes a team to score goals, and I think we need to gel better and I think that’s happening.”
Friend will be amongst a group of players who will be looking to win over the admiration of Stephen Hart during tomorrow’s match, but for the team’s core players, the Belarus match is very much about getting the team ready for the start of the Gold Cup and a highly-anticpated clash with United States.
Atiba Hutchinson had a late equalizer against the United States controversially disallowed in the semi-finals of the 2007 Gold Cup, so for him, a chance to take on the Americans again has been long-awaited.
“I think we’re all looking for a little bit of revenge from the last game,” Hutchinson stated.
“I think all the boys really get up for that game against the States, it’s a little bit of derby, a rivalry, and I think we’ll all be looking forward to it. We have to take it one game a time, get a good result here and hopefully prepare from there. “
Josh Simpson was also eager to express his excitement about the June 7th match against the Americans in Detroit.
“It’s a heck of a way to start off the Gold Cup, that’s for sure,” he said.
“We’re excited about it, that’s always going to be a big game for us. If we can take some momentum from this camp into that game, we should be flying and I’m hoping to take three points from them on their home ground.”
Simpson, who plays his club football only a 40-minute flight from Antalya in Manisa, has been playing the role of local interpreter for his teammates during his time in Turkey – ordering coffees and translating messages at the hotel.
For the Manisaspor winger, tomorrow’s match is more than just a matter of preparation; it is also an opportunity for Canada to start ditching their tag as perennial underdogs.
“The rankings don’t mean a whole lot to us, it seems like we’re always outranked, but as you saw in the Ukraine we get into the match and take it to them.
“Also in Greeece, we played well and we were unlucky with the result. This game’s just another training game for us where we can build together in our quest for the 2014 World Cup. “
The buzz around the Canada camp is palpable.
Perhaps the team is reaping the merits of a week in the Mediterranean sun as much as anything else, but coaches and players agree that this has been one of Canada’s sharpest camps in recent years.
Coach Hart explained that Canada has enjoyed a much needed opportunity to spend a prolonged period of time together.
“We’ve had about 12 to 14 players for most of the camp, and the rest of the players came in as their games were finished,” Hart said.
“It’s been a good camp, good weather, good field, it allowed us some time together.”
Canada will now be seeking victory tomorrow against Belarus to affirm the group’s belief that steady progress has been made in Turkey, but a winning result won’t be easy to come by.
Belarus recently defeated France in Paris during the qualifiers for Euro 2012, and despite not having a roster packed with standout European stars, the Belarusians have worked extremely hard to achieve their standing as a top-40 FIFA nation.
If Canada can snatch a result tomorrow in Antalya, they will surely arrive in Detroit with an extra bounce in their step.
A crucial summer of 2011 lies in the balance.
More from Hart
On Iain Hume:
“Iain, if he comes in here, would be a secondary striker, I wanted to look at Pedro Pacheco in that situation, he’s never really gotten a good run, and to be fair to him, every time he’s come on he’s been very dangerous. I didn’t want to bring Iain here and sit him out and just give him 15 to 20 minutes.”
On Ali Gerba:
“I spoke to Ali about coming into this camp, but you’ll have to speak to him about this full decision on why he didn’t come in. At first he was happy to come in, and then he said he would not be coming in. He gave me an explanation; but you’ll have to speak to him for his answer.”
On Mike Klukowski:
“He couldn’t come in before because of some family issues, his wife’s pregnancy. But they’ve had the baby now and all that’s working out. He always wanted to come in, but the family comes first. “
On facing the US in June:
“Playing the US, in the US is always special. They’ve got a very good squad now with a lot depth so I think everybody is looking forward to this game.”