Canadian soccer history will be made this spring when the national men's side travels to Buenos Aires to face Diego Maradona and his tremendously gifted, notoriously flawed Argentina team just weeks before the World Cup opens in South Africa.
The friendly match will mark the first time Canada and Argentina have met in international men's competition. It will also be the marquee game of Stephen Hart's first year as head coach of the Canadian team.
"When you're talking world football, you can't talk about it without mentioning Argentina," Hart said Monday. "They are one of the greatest nations in the game. This is a huge game for Canada and its players."
The game will be held at Estadio Monumental on May 24. Argentina opens its World Cup schedule against Nigeria on June 12, following an often bumpy qualification process and a two-month suspension levelled on Maradona after a profanity-filled tirade against reporters.
Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and again in 1986, which was also the last time Canada appeared on soccer's grandest stage. Argentina has also won a half-dozen under-20 titles, including the tournament staged in Canada three years ago.
"As professional athletes, and as international athletes, you want to test yourself against the best in the world," Hart said. "Obviously, the tension of the qualification is all gone for Argentina. They'll be very relaxed and in the middle of their preparation for South Africa - and you have to expect it will be a very, very good game for us."
Hart won in nine of 18 games as Canada's interim coach, with seven losses and two draws. He is 0-1 since becoming the full-time coach, falling 1-0 with a youth-laden squad in Jamaica on Jan. 31.
The team has lost in each of its last four games dating back to a 1-0 defeat to Honduras in the quarter-final round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer.
Canada, which was eliminated in qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa, is trying to land a series of international friendlies for this year, including two to be staged on home soil. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup begins in 2012.
The game against Argentina will be the unquestioned highlight.
"It's an opportunity to match up against some of the best players in the world," Hart said. "We will go into the game with a very, very positive attitude and we'll evaluate what we got out of the game after that."