TORONTO – The Canadian national team will kick off its 2012 calendar with a friendly against Armenia on Feb. 29 in Cyprus, the Canadian Soccer Association announced on Tuesday.
This will be the first ever meeting between the two sides. For Stephen Hart’s squad, the friendly will be the first test since a successful round of World Cup qualifying ended last November.
The 46th-ranked Armenians – who were a last-minute replacement opponent after a scheduled friendly vs. New Zealand fell through – will provide a good challenge as Hart looks to prepare Canada for their next phase of World Cup qualification, which is slated to begin June 8 in Cuba.
“Armenia were an option presented to us, I did some quick homework on them and saw that they were a very effective attacking team and I thought they’d be a really, really good game for us,” Hart said during a conference call on Tuesday. “If you look at their individual players, they have a lot of attack-minded players that are playing at top clubs and have Champions League or European experience.”
Hart called the Armenian side “very tricky” and “very dynamic” and feels that they should give the Canadian defense a tough test.
“I thought it it would be good for our players to get some sort of one-on-one match ups against these sort of players,” he said.
Given that his MLS-based players will still be in pre-season form, Hart said that he will likely fill his roster with national teamers who are currently plying their trade in Europe.
“The intention is to use most or almost all of the European-based players that I can,” Hart said. “The MLS players are not playing, they are not even in training camp as of yet, and it would be very difficult to utilize them. I may have to call on some of them, I really don’t know yet at this point.”
It is also not yet known what is in store for the Canadians in the long stretch between Feb. 29 and the start of the next phase of World Cup qualifying in June, but Hart stressed that he’ll be looking to gather his players as soon as possible, with an eye to a possible game just prior to the re-opening of qualification.
“The majority of my players will be fully in season and since it’s not a FIFA date, it’s very difficult to get them away from their clubs,” Hart said. “Once the [European] club season is finished, I do intend to get the players into camp ... and make sure that they’re training a bit, and then gather everybody for an exhibition game in late May-early June, and then go on to qualification.”