This man is an absolute genius!
How do I know?
Because he agrees with everything I say.
From the Globe and Mail, October 7, 2003:
By STEPHEN BRUNT
Until this past week, Canada qualifying for a World Cup soccer final -- men's, women's or whatever -- was an event that fans of the sport could feel reasonably certain would never take place in their lifetimes. Had it happened, any sense of perspective would have been swallowed up in the euphoria -- and that would have been just fine.
Reaching the consolation final is still pretty darned fabulous for the Canadian women, who will meet the broken-hearted Americans in Carson, Calif., this weekend with third place on the line. They deserve all of the accolades that have come their way.
But falling that one step short at least means that there can be talk not just of how far this team has come, but also of how far it still has to go. In the 2-1 loss to Sweden in the semi-finals on Sunday, there was plenty of evidence of both.
Obviously, this is a resilient, mentally tough bunch that believes in itself and in its coach, Even Pellerud, and that has a nice mix of youthful self-confidence and veteran savvy.
They were shaken after losing to Germany 4-1 in their first game of the tournament -- not understanding then that the Germans are pretty clearly the best team in the world right now -- and were weakened defensively by a series of injuries. But gradually, the women righted themselves, coming from behind to beat Japan in the game that put them through to the quarter-finals and then upsetting China (a side in obvious decline) to reach the final four.
That lack of quit will help get the women past a lot of hurdles. So will their strength and power, the great skills of Christine Sinclair and Christine Latham up front and the still-developing talents of 16-year-old Kara Lang. The latter had her best moments of the tournament against Sweden, and her free-kick goal was the closest thing to a Roberto Carlos strike that you're likely to see in the women's game.
Canada right now can outwork a lot of other teams and it can simply steamroll smaller sides with middling skills, and as long as the goalkeeping holds up, it's at worst a live underdog against anyone in the world.
But that shouldn't obscure the fact that Sweden deserved to win and that they overall outskilled Canada by a pretty wide margin.
Also, once the Swedes broke through and scored the tying goal the Canadian women had no way of responding. Defeat, at that point, was inevitable.
In putting this team together over the past 3½ years, Pellerud has clearly made choices designed to take advantage of the talent available to him and to fast-track it into contention. He may well have already been inclined to play the kind of ugly, long-ball game that won him a World Cup with Norway in 1995, but ,in any case, Pellerud decided that it was better to win games now and worry about the fine points down the road.
Today, it's hard to argue with that approach -- especially when comparisons are drawn with the Canadian men, who are floundering, coachless and hopeless.
The problem for Canada is that however sweet this moment is, the women's game isn't standing still. That was made obvious not just by the fact that the United States isn't going to win this World Cup, but by the flair shown by sides such as Brazil, and even Ghana, which aren't ready yet, but which will be a force down the road. This isn't women's hockey -- there are already a half-dozen legitimately competitive countries at the elite level, and that pool is rapidly getting deeper.
Whether it's men or women, the best soccer teams work through the midfield, passing the ball with precision, opening up opposing defences, logically building to an attack, or striking quickly and cleverly, as the Swedes did on their first goal on Sunday.
Canada does none of that right now
, and the strategic brains of the team, Charmaine Hooper, who spent most of the tournament filling in as a defender, has probably played in her final World Cup. Her successor will have to emerge over the next four years. Midfield talent will have to develop to complement Lang, Latham and Sinclair. Canada will have to learn to play a smarter, better, more sophisticated game, or risk being left behind.
That's a challenge, but it's a lot more palatable than the one Canada faced four years back, when it finished in 12th place, the coach was about to be fired and the team was in open revolt.
Again, time for perspective: whatever the flaws, whatever the stylistic issues for Canadian soccer, life's never been better than it is right now.