Julian de Guzman - Canada
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Julian de Guzman leads revitalized Canada on Hex quest: "We have no fear"

Julian de Guzman could be getting ready for the biggest birthday party of his life.

The Canadian captain turns 35 on Friday, the same day Canada meet Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in front of an expected crowd of 50,000-plus at Vancouver’s BC Place. He’ll be honored prior to kickoff for becoming the national team’s all-time leader in appearances (he's currently on 86 caps), but that’s not the only birthday gift he hopes is in store.

“We know a win is very possible,” de Guzman told reporters on Friday. “It’ll be very difficult, but it’s not impossible.”

While it’s not uncommon for underdog teams to speak highly of their own chances ahead of big contests, de Guzman attributes his confidence to a cultural shift brought into the program since the appointment of manager Benito Floro in mid-2013.

“He really believes in us,” de Guzman says of Floro. “He has us believing in ourselves as well, and believing in him. As long as we hold onto that belief and that faith, we know we can make Russia [2018].”

It’s ambitious talk for the former Toronto FC and FC Dallas midfielder, currently in his 14th year with the senior national team. But in what’s surely his final World Cup qualifying cycle for Canada, de Guzman is prepared to give everything he has to help turn those dreams, at last, into reality.

“To be honest, being a part of the national team is one of the main reasons I’m still putting the boots on,” he says. “It’s a motivating factor; I want to help this country achieve something they haven’t done in a long time.”

De Guzman says he isn’t looking ahead to his own potential involvement, if Canada were to somehow reach the 2018 World Cup. The immediate goal is reaching the Hexagonal round in CONCACAF qualifying, something Canada haven’t done since 1997.

In that quest, the Canadian team has been bolstered by the recent additions of the likes of Tesho Akindele, Junior Hoilett and Steven Vitoria, as well as Scott Arfield, who is likely to make his debut for Canada in the upcoming qualifiers.

“It’s just great to see guys finally commit to the national team,” says de Guzman. “It’s something Canada’s been missing for such a long time.”

De Guzman says the current team is one of the best Canadian squads, on paper, that he’s ever been part of – but he’s well aware that to make good on all the hype and positive momentum, the team must perform on the field when it matters most.

“The confidence coming into this camp, looking at the names we have on our side, we have no fear. It’s a different feel versus the way it has been in the past,” he says. “We’re definitely confident to step up to this challenge ahead of us; not just comfortable but well prepared.”

The team’s actual results, though they’ve been trending upward in Floro’s nearly three years at the helm, don’t suggest that an upset win against Mexico is in the cards. But in de Guzman’s mind, the influx of new talent and the team’s buy-in to Floro’s philosophies and tactics are coming together at exactly the right time to produce something special.

“We’re playing against a top team, but we’ve been able to produce positive results at home,” he says. “We’re not just concerned about getting positive results, we want to win. That’s our new mentality that we’ve been able to present with the national team.

“This is something we’ve been very hungry for and we can’t wait to kick off.”