At 36, Ante Jazic keeps on trucking. For Chivas USA and Canada.
The Halifax fullback was a key man for Canada in Friday’s 3-0 win over Cuba in Toronto, helping set up two of the goals. His interplay with Simeon Jackson down the left side triggered the first by Toisant Ricketts while his pinpoint cross set up fellow fullback David Edgar for the third.
Coach Stephen Hart singled out both his fullbacks for praise afterwards, calling their play “fantastic.”
A dynamo on the field, Jazic is also a steadying influence off it. That experience will be useful Tuesday when Canada takes on Honduras under the baking sun at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.
Jazic, a veteran of three World Cup qualifying campaigns, is no stranger to the twists and turns of Central America.
“I know it well,” he said prior to arriving in Honduras on Sunday on the Canadian charter.
A tie or win in San Pedro Sula and Canada (3-1-1) advances to the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Winless Cuba (0-5-0) hosts Panama (3-1-1) in the other game Tuesday.
Honduras (2-1-2) needs a win to keep going.
The top two teams in the group move on to the final round, something Canada has not done since 1997.
Jazic likes the chemistry on the current Canadian squad.
“We’ve got a great group,” he said. “A great balance of veteran leadership and some young guys coming up. We’ve been together for a long time. Everyone knows each other’s game. The group is tight, now it’s up to us to perform on the pitch.”
Jazic has been party of a steady back four that also features Edgar on the right flank and captain Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault at centre back in front of Lars Hirschfeld in goal.
“There’s good communication back there,” said Jazic. “But it’s not only us. The midfielders and the strikers, the entire team, works hard defensively. It’s a team concept so when everyone’s working hard, it’s easy to defend as a unit.”
Canada has posted 10 shutouts in its last 12 games, although five of those clean sheets came against lesser competition in the last qualifying round. And in five of those outings, Canada was also blanked.
Travelling through CONCACAF can be a challenge. If it’s not partying fans in Panama, looking to disrupt the visiting team’s sleep, it’s a brutal pitch in Havana.
“I don’t think I’ve played on a worst pitch in my life, to be honest with you,” Jazic, whose football travels have taken him as far afield as Austria, Croatia and Russia, said of the June game in Cuba. “And it was hot.”
Jazic then had to survive the Panama party animals, complete with boomboxes.
“They basically had a street party two days before the match that would go on to two or three in the morning,” he said. “It was loud, the hotel walls were vibrating ‘til three in the morning. And also the stadium was extremely loud, the fans were passionate.”
Canada lost 2-0 in a game that saw Dwayne De Rosario go down with a knee injury.
“We didn’t have our best stuff on the day,” said Jazic. “They beat us, they deserved the result.”
Early indications are that their Honduras hotel won’t be as wild. It is a little bit more off the beaten path and police with machine guns were stationed outside the lobby Sunday.
Jazic’s recollection of his last game in Honduras — a loss under then manager Frank Yallop — also features extreme heat and passionate supporters.
“But it wasn’t anything like Panama ...It wasn’t as intimidating as Panama for sure.”
Looking back at his club career, Jazic says derbies in Croatia were the most ferocious in his day, playing for Hajduk Split against rival Dinamo Zagreb. He recalls games being called in mid-action because fans were trying to get on the pitch.
“Russia wasn’t too bad,” he said. “I was at one of the smaller clubs so we didn’t really have a big rivalry with anybody. But Croatia was hostile, for sure.”
Like Canadian teammate Terry Dunfield of Toronto FC (5-20-7), Jazic has suffered through a tough club season. Chivas languishes in the Western Conference basement at 7-17-8.
A 1-1 tie last time out against FC Dallas snapped a seven-game losing streak and 600-minute scoreless spell. Chivas has not won in 12 games since July 28, outscored 33-8 over that stretch.
“It’s been difficult,” Jazic said. “The first 20 games of the season, we had one of the top defences in the league and then these last 10 or 11 matches we’ve strayed away from that for some reason. And then even at time when we were playing well, we were punished. We just couldn’t catch a break. So it’s been difficult.”
New ownership has made for some player uncertainty.
“I hasn’t been the easiest of times.”
Pulling on the national team sweater is always welcome, Jazic said.
“Absolutely. It’s no bigger thrill for myself or probably for any other player representing your country internationally. I’m privileged that I’m still able to do that and the group that we have, we have a belief amongst ourselves that we can go far in this contest and that we can qualify for a World Cup.
“I’m just thrilled that I can help out in any capacity. And that whenever they need me, I’m available.”
Jazic is confident Canada can keep its qualifying campaign going, citing the team’s “positive vibe” and “a real belief that we can get the job done.”
“We’ve been together for a while so this is the time for us to take the next step forward, no doubt.”