Benito Floro’s goal for the Gold Cup – to win the whole thing – hasn’t wavered. But does he really think his Canadian team can do it?
“In soccer, nothing is impossible,” Floro told reporters during a conference call on Monday, ahead of the start of the tournament.
Canada, which kick off against El Salvador on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET; Fox Sports 2, UniMas, UDN in the US; Sportsnet World/360 in Canada), are certainly a long shot to hoist the trophy. But the team has seen a surge in form as of late, coming into the tournament on a four-game winning streak.
“We believe in our players, we believe in their progress,” the 63-year-old Spaniard said. “It is true that our ranking in CONCACAF and in FIFA is not the best. But one thing is the ranking; another is the vision.”
Ranked No. 109 in the world, Canada were always going to be big underdogs. Their Gold Cup hopes took a further hit when it was revealed Atiba Hutchinson, Will Johnson and Milan Borjan would all miss the tournament.
Hutchinson is out with an injury, while Johnson (still not 100 percent after coming back from a broken leg) and Borjan (who recently signed a new contract in Bulgaria) remained with their respective clubs. But Floro suggested that he appreciates the sometimes-delicate balance between club and country that his players must strike.
“We need to use here the players in the best condition,” he said. “We understand it’s very important for [all members of the national-team pool] to play in a club.”
As for the players who are in camp, Floro said they arrived with the right mindset. While he expects three difficult games in the group stage – Jamaica (July 11) and Costa Rica (July 14, at BMO Field) will follow the El Salvador tilt – he has faith that his squad will put in three solid efforts.
- Gold Cup preview: Costa Rica are the favorites in Group B free-for-all
“Jamaica is a very good team, but we played against them in Toronto [last September, a 3-1 win for Canada] and the level was similar,” Floro said. “I consider Costa Rica is one of the best teams in the world.
“It’s going to be a very good game for people who love soccer. We are hoping to … arrive to this game in condition to fight for first position in our group.”
For Canada, there’s more on the line than usual at this Gold Cup. This their only shot at qualifying for next year’s Copa America Centenario. To do so, Les Rouges will likely need to reach the Gold Cup semifinals.
“It’s very important … to play the final or the semifinal of the Gold Cup,” said Floro.
“We need to put in our mind to qualify for the Centenario. It would be very, very nice for Canada and for us.”
Whatever Canada’s result at the Gold Cup, Floro is pleased to have the opportunity to get his team together to play (at least) three more official matches, which will help ready the squad for the resumption of World Cup qualifying in September.
Above all, the tournament represents a chance to see whether Canada have legitimately turned things around after a difficult two-year rebuilding process, and whether their fans can expect brighter days ahead.
“It’s time to test if it is true,” said Floro. “We are going to go step by step.”