After winning their group at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, Canada were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Honduras. It was a bitter pill to swallow for a team that had shown so well in the early stages, but their overall performance in the USA last month was enough to earn them a big jump up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the best of any team in the world.
Drawn into a difficul group at the biennial regional finals, where the champions of North, Central America and the Caribbean are crowned, Stephen Hart's Canadians were in rip-roaring form from the offing. Wins over Caribbean champions Jamaica, El Salvador and a draw with eventual semi-finalists and regional powers Costa Rica were enough to see the northerners, who won their only CONCACAF crown back in 2000, finish top of their section, picking up some important points in the global standings in the bargain.
In a largely static month throughout the world, the Canucks are the biggest movers, jumping up no less than 26 points in the global pecking order. The move sees the side move up to 66th overall and into fifth place in the CONCACAF Zone, better positioned than both the Jamaicans and Trinidad and Tobago, only two ranking positions outside of the region's well-known 'big three' of USA, Mexico and Costa Rica.
The leap, as well as the teams' generally lively play in the USA, will come as sweet relief for football fans up north. Team Canada looked to have gone on a downward spiral under previous coach Dale Mitchell and were eliminated from CONCACAF qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa before the final round.
People don't expect much from Canada generally speaking, but we have some very good players.
As they attempt to recalibrate their expectations and slowly build toward a run at Brazil 2014, the Canadians can take heart from some of their current crop of performers. Captain Paul Stalteri, formerly of Tottenham Hotspur and currently with Borussia Monchengladbach, midfielder creator Julian De Guzman, ace poacher Ali Gerba, who is fast approaching the country's all-time top-scorer mark, all performed well at the Gold Cup, as did Atiba Hutchinson and Patrice Bernier. Waiting in the wings, too, is Dwayne De Rosario. Arguably the country's most talented player, he decided to skip the latest installment of the regional showpiece to focus on his club commitments.
The side have every reason to be proud of their Gold Cup revival, despite coming up flat against Honduras, also the team that knocked them out of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, in the quarter-finals in Philadelphia. "It was no surprise that we won our group," Gerba told FIFA.com. "People don't expect much from Canada generally speaking, but we have some very good players. People have misperceptions about us, like we're a bunch of ice hockey players. But we have people from all over the world, and so we have players that are all different and can do different things."
The Canadians, who have not been able to return to a FIFA World Cup finals since making their debut in 1986, still have a way to go, but their leap in the Ranking will do their nerves, and their supporters, a world of good. "We need more support from the federation, more time to play together as a team," De Rosario, who decided to stay with club side Toronto FC during the Gold Cup, remarked. "Once we get that, we will be able to show our natural ability. We'll be able to spring a surprise or two down the road."