One year after an 8-1 humbling in Honduras that signalled yet another early end to World Cup qualifying, there seemingly has been little to celebrate in Canadian men’s soccer.
Canada fell to an all-time low in the FIFA rankings Thursday for the second straight month, dropping five positions to No. 111. The Canadians stand 12th in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Going into the Honduras game at San Pedro Sula on Oct. 16, 2012, Canada was ranked 61st in the world and sixth in CONCACAF.
Today, the Canadian men stand a hair above No. 112 Antigua and Barbuda, whose population is some 90,000 compared to Canada’s 35 million.
Canada is below Angola, Botswana, both Congos, Gabon, Guinea and Niger, to name just a few.
“I can sympathize with fans who are frustrated that we are not getting the results that we all want to get,” said Victor Montagliani, president of the Canadian Soccer Association.
Montagliani, however, says the association has shown already it is “fully committed” to getting the national team games, as opposed to past years when the squad has virtually been put on hold following failed World Cup qualifying campaigns.
While Canada is looking at the 2018 World Cup, the CSA boss says the 2022 tournament and beyond may be more realistic.
“And unfortunately it’s going to mean some tough results because you’re going to be using a lot of players who don’t have the caps or the experience to compete at the international level,” he said. “And there are some realities we have. Our young players are not getting time with their clubs and those are things I think they need to fix as much as we need to help them to fix.
“But I think our approach is sound, in that it’s long-term, we’re not going to make decisions based on the way the wind blows in terms of popularity. Quite honestly I think we’ve done that too much in the past and we’re going to make decision based on long-term health.”
The FIFA rankings are not the be-all and end-all in soccer, but it’s hard to argue with Canada’s decline given results over the last 12 months.
The Canadians have gone 0-8-3 and scored just once since being thumped in Honduras. They have been outscored 16-1 and have only Marcus Haber’s goal in a 2-1 loss to Japan in March to avoid a total shutout on the year.
As it stands, Canada has not scored in 12 hours 32 minutes.
The rebuilding job has fallen to Benito Floro, who has just three games under his belt since officially taking as coach on Aug. 1. With an eye to the future, his focus has clearly been on changing the national team culture while educating a squad that is brimming with youth.
Floro, a 61-year-old Spaniard whose coaching career has taken him from Real Madrid to Mexico’s Monterrey, has used long classroom and videos sessions to educate the Canadians in his two camps to date.
“I think it’s been great,” said 20-year-old defender Doneil Henry.
“I’m definitely optimistic and positive for Benito,” he added. “He’s been great so far and he really does know the game.”
Henry’s optimism extends to the Canadian squad, which he sees as “a team for the future.”
Henry, who already has nine senior caps to his credit, was one of four of Toronto FC players aged 23 or younger in the Canadian squad that lost 3-0 to Australia on Tuesday.
Other youngsters who saw action included 18-year-old Samuel Piette, 20-year-old Russell Teibert and 21-year-old Stefan Cebara.
“If we can start getting these players the professional experience they need at the international stage, it will definitely benefit us in the long run,” said Henry.
Recent losses, while painful, have shown the youngsters “that this is a man’s game,” according to Henry.
“There’s so much more to learn,” he added. “Especially myself going up against, playing against top players in the world. These are the games that we need.
“It’s going to build our character and build us as individual professionals in the long run. I understand that results right now are hurting us but eventually there’s going to be a turn.”
Henry is certain that with the growth of the three MLS teams’ academies and Canadians continuing to go overseas, “we’re going to eventually be there with the top countries in the world.”
Floro, said Montagliani, is pleased at the reaction of his players to date.
“He’s got a positive outlook,” the CSA president said. “He knows that it’s not a task for the faint of heart and that there’s a lot of work to do but he’s committed to the task.”
Longtime leader Spain — the defending World Cup champion —remains atop the FIFA rankings released Thursday, followed by Germany, Argentina, Colombia and Belgium.
The Canadian men reached a high of No. 40 in December 1996. Canada last won in October 2012 when it defeated Cuba 3-0 in Toronto.
Montagliani said the Canadian men may play a friendly next month while the World Cup qualifying playoffs take place. There will be a January camp plus a March game, with CSA officials hoping they might get to play before the World Cup as well as opportunities in September, October and November.
Long-time leader Spain — the defending World Cup champion — remains first in the rankings, followed by Germany and Argentina. Colombia and Belgium are next despite not playing at the 2010 World Cup, which is still a factor in the rankings over a four-year cycle of results.
Belgium, Colombia and Switzerland will be three of the eight seeded teams at the 2014 World Cup because of their FIFA ranking. FIFA decided this month that the seven best-ranked nations in Thursday’s list would be seeded alongside host nation Brazil, which is ranked No. 11.
Uruguay, a semi-finalist in 2010, is No. 6 on the latest list but must still beat 70th-ranked Jordan in a two-leg playoff next month to enter the World Cup draw on Dec. 6 in Salvador.
Switzerland is seventh, its highest position since 1995.
The Netherlands is No. 8 and will be seeded if Uruguay is eliminated. Italy is officially tied at No. 8, though it trails the Dutch by decimal points.
Seedings in the European playoffs were also decided by Thursday’s rankings.
Portugal (No. 14), Greece (No. 15), Croatia (No. 18) and Ukraine (No. 20) will be seeded in next Monday’s draw. France (No. 21) missed out by a single ranking point, 871-870.
Sweden (No. 25), Romania (No. 29) and Iceland (No. 46) are also involved.
The United States remains at No. 13 despite two victories in qualifiers against Jamaica and Panama. Mexico drops three to No. 24, and will face New Zealand — down 12 to No. 79 — in a playoff next month.
Ivory Coast, which beat Senegal 3-1 in the first leg of a playoff last weekend, is the best of Africa at No. 17.
Japan leads Asia, despite dropping two to No. 44. The other Asian teams at the World Cup are Iran (No. 49), South Korea (No. 56) and Australia (No. 57).
With files from The Associated Press