NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s almost perfect symmetry as Canada get set to open their qualifying campaign for the 2012 London Olympics. On Thursday, they return to LP Field, the same place where their dreams of reaching Beijing were dashed four years ago.
In March of 2008, the Canadians ran into the United States in the do-or-die semifinals of the qualifying tournament. They were overpowered by a Freddy Adu-led American team, falling to a 3-0 loss with Adu picking up a brace.
This time around, Canada start in a group with the US, El Salvador and Cuba. The rematch with the Americans comes on Saturday, but the young Canucks are focused upon their opening game on Thursday against El Salvador (6:30 pm ET, Sportsnet One, CONCACAF.com) – a team that is something of a mystery.
In fact, head coach Tony Fonseca shared a joke with the media on Wednesday when a Salvadoran journalist asked him if he knows anything about the team Canada will face.
“No, nothing,” he admitted, before cracking, “Can you tell me about it?”
The Canadian side convened last week for training camp in Florida before arriving here in Tennessee. They played two friendlies while in the Sunshine State, a solid 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, then a loss to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL in which they looked good, but ultimately fell on the opposite side of that same 1-0 score line.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot in the last week together as a squad,” said striker Marcus Haber (pictured above), who plays for St. Johnstone of the Scottish Premier League, “and I’ve played with a lot of the guys before, so I know a lot of their tendencies. ... I think we’ve got a way of playing that we’re going to put on the pitch.”
This tournament marks Haber’s second go at Olympic qualifying. The 6-foot-3 forward came on as a second-half substitute when Canada lost that game to the Americans four years ago. With the group stage of the tourney seeing each team play three games over a five-day period, Haber knows what to expect in such a physically and mentally draining couple of days.
“I know from last time it’s tough playing in the heat especially when you have three games in such a short amount of time,” he said. “The one thing is you’re definitely going to have to hydrate between games and stay focussed. “
Haber added he wouldn’t be surprised to see every one of the 20-man squad brought into the camp see some action at some point in the tournament.