With Canada Soccer’s most recent friendly announcement, confirming that Canada will play Iceland in an exhibition match next month, we break down why this game is important, why Canada has a chance and also explore why we might see some more January Canada Soccer content announced soon.
They left it late, but it’s finally here, and that’s good news for Canada Soccer fans.
On Monday morning, Canada Soccer announced that their Senior Men’s National Team would be having a January training camp, as they get set to travel to California to take on Iceland in a friendly later next month.
It’s a late announcement, but it’s good news for Canadian fans, as we had all but given up hope of any games until the March window. Now, thanks to this announcement, Canada appears to have at least one game against good opposition coming, with the slight possibility of playing more still remaining on the table.
By taking on Iceland, Canada gets to play a team that has taken European football by storm these past few years, as they made a surprise run in the 2016 Euros, before making the World Cup in 2018. Despite having a population similar to Burnaby BC, they’ve punched well above their weight in the world’s game, surprising teams with some skilled players and a cohesive game plan.
While both teams will be missing some key players, with the game being played outside of the regular FIFA window, it still should present an intriguing matchup. With a lot on the line for Canada, including placement in the ‘Hexagonal’ this fall, they’ll need to go for broke to chase a victory, which on its own should be entertaining.
For Iceland, they are looking to round out their squad ahead of qualifiers of their own, as their playoff for the 2020 Euros starts in March, making this camp a chance for some of the fringe players in the squad to fight for a spot, which should make this a well-contested affair.
As any game in the next 6 months does for Canada, a win or loss can make a pretty decent dent in their quest for the Hex, especially considering El Salvador also plays Iceland during this same window.
A victory from Canada against Iceland can give Les Rouges around 4 points to add to their points bank, narrowing the gap between them and El Salvador to 11, which slowly starts to make catching their Central American foes a realistic outcome. If El Salvador loses to Iceland as well, on top of a Canada win, all of a sudden that gap is only around 9 points, which is not an impossible gap to overcome in March and June.
While the dream scenario from this January camp would be playing El Salvador (and winning), which isn’t completely impossible considering both they and Canada play Iceland at the same location within 4 days of each other, even just beating Iceland could help Canada massively.
It would have been originally hoped that this camp could have doubled as a U23 Olympic camp, allowing them to avoid putting too much wear and tear on some of their top guys, but these games are the reality of the new qualifying format, one that requires a lot of mathematical gymnastics to understand.
With the U23’s also playing a camp in January, supposedly held in Vancouver, as per Thomas Nef, it’s good to see Canada investing time and resources in both of these teams, as both the Olympics and the Hex can provide valuable experience to their crop of young talent.
All in all, Iceland was probably one of the best January opponents Canada could have scored, given the circumstances. They get to play a team over 30 ranking spots ahead of them, which considering they’re playing outside the FIFA window, where the rankings multiplier is less significant, it’s probably one of the best outcomes they could have imagined.
With Iceland bringing a mostly Scandinavian-based side, with a lot of top players left out due to club commitments, it’s also a winnable game for Canada, which considering the difference in ranking, is a perfect way for them to win points. That’s not to say that it will be an easy game for Canada, by no stretch of the imagination, but considering that most of their usual first-team squad will actually be available, expecting a Canadian victory isn’t too far-fetched, either.
Now the big question, at least until further clarification arises, is if a game against El Salvador will also come up as part of this camp. There’s nothing yet suggesting that it will, but if it does, it would be massive, considering that a Canada victory could potentially cause a 4+ point swing, which would completely throw the rankings up in the air.
But until anything of the like is confirmed, we’ll be left to imagine. Canada Soccer’s Richard Scott put out this tweet that was (mis?) interpreted by many, including yours truly, to indicate that an El Salvador game is coming, but it was quickly pointed out by Canada’s supporter group, the Voyageurs, that no game is yet to be publicly reported.
With the Voyageurs also saying that they are supposed to get more details surrounding the whole camp later this week, who knows, maybe a holiday gift is yet to come for Canada, but don’t count on it quite yet. Either way, this Iceland match should be quite important, given the chance to potentially gain 5-6 points if Canada gets favourable results, which given the enormity of a 15 point gap, is a pretty significant opportunity for them to have in the first place.
Canada’s lineup still strong
Luckily for Canada, despite missing their young starlets Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies, as well as veterans Junior Hoilett, Scott Arfield and Atiba Hutchinson, their squad should still be rather deep for the Iceland clash. Given that a big chunk of their squad is based out of leagues currently in their offseason period, they should be able to put out a good assembly of players, making thoughts of a victory possible.
Considering that they could still put out a squad that includes 20 players that have been called up over the course of 2019, they’re not losing as much as one would expect at a time like this, which is why organizing these January friendlies is a smart idea for Canada to make up the point gap.
While having the likes of Davies, Hoilett, Arfield, Hutchinson, Liam Miller, Steven Vitoria Cyle Larin, Stephen Eustaquio and company would all help out massively, especially offensively, most of Canada’s spine can be called up, giving them a chance against their Icelandic foes. They won’t be an easy matchup, especially considering that they’re known for being a cohesive unit, with or without their best players, but Canada can still give them a run for their money with the squad that they will have at their disposal.
Offensively, there are some questions to be asked, especially with so many key names missing, but it also allows a chance for some other names to shine, with the likes of Ballou Tabla, Tristan Borges, Raheem Edwards and Tesho Akindele all being capable attacking options. Borges is an especially intriguing case, considering that he is coming off an MVP season with Forge in the CPL, as this could be a big opportunity for him to make some noise with the National Team, putting his name in the hat for future call-ups.
This lineup could also stand to be affected by a supposed U23 Olympic camp, of which Borges, Cornelius, Tabla and Fraser are all eligible for, amongst others, but given the importance of these games for their Hex hopes, don’t be surprised if Canada brings their A-game to secure the valuable FIFA Points that are up for grabs.
All in all, there will be plenty to watch for on the pitch in this camp, ahead of what is expected to be some big games in March and June, where even more points will be on the line for the Reds. While it would be nice to have more of these ‘Camp Poutine’s’ under more favourable circumstances, in which these teams can be analyzed under less stressful conditions, this is the reality of the new CONCACAF qualifying scheme, something that we will have to get used to for the time being.
Considering the last-minute nature of the announcement, this is some good news to start the new year, and hopefully it can be followed by more friendlies in the future. Canada needs these FIFA points, badly, given the importance of reaching the Hex, which is why it’s positive to at least see them give a good shot at trying to get there.
This qualifying system has not done many teams any favours, no doubt about it, but you can only deal with the hand you’ve been given, so good on Canada for at least trying to get some games in. While it would have been hoped that they could have avoided being in this position, with those losses against Haiti and the US looming large, but that’s just the reality of the current CONCACAF landscape, one of which Canada, along with El Salvador, just have to deal with.
In the coming weeks, expect some squad announcements, which should come relatively soon, with Iceland already announcing their group of players for this trip. There shouldn’t be too many surprises, especially with some of the players available, but this could also be a chance for some new faces to get an opportunity with Canada, so we’ll be monitoring that closely as the game approaches.
After a busy 2019, things are kicking off early, leading into what should be an entertaining 2020 year, win or lose. With many highs and lows to look back on from this past year, they’ll want to find a way to learn from the mistakes of the past, starting with this game, leading into what is hoped to be bigger and better things.
Cover Photo provided by: Jeremy Reper (Canada Soccer)
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Alex is a soccer journalist who covers the Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada’s National Teams and the Canadian Premier League at large. He’s also a third-year student at Ryerson University in Toronto, after having attended Simon Fraser University in Vancouver for his first year. You can find him on twitter at @AlexGangueRuzic. View all posts by Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic