For the first time in their history, in February 2000 Canada won a major competition - the CONCACAF Gold Cup. A definite factor in this success was their German coach Holger Osieck, who now has hopes of causing further surprises with Canada at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Korea and Japan.
FIFA Magazine: The Canadian Football Association was founded in 1912, but it was not until last year that they won their first title. Were you as surprised as they were by this success in the CONCACAF Gold Cup?
Holger Osieck: It would have been very optimistic to count on winning this title, especially because we were short of a number of key players and I had to make changes to the team all the time.
So how did you manage to pull off this triumph?
Things simply went well for us. Every player I chose did a great job. Every time we won a game our confidence rose and so did the morale within the team. I was very positively surprised by how well my team played, although I was aware that they had made great progress in the last two years.
How did the public in Canada react to this success?
Football is not the leading sport in Canada - ice hockey and basketball are way ahead. When I first arrived here I thought for a while that I was in a football no-man's land. But since we won the Gold Cup things have really turned in our favour. The Prime Minister sent us his congratulations in a telegram, we were honoured by the state, and the players and I were invited to appear on TV shows. But even right after our moment of success I was aware that Canadian football still has a lot of work ahead of it.
What does that mean exactly?
During the Gold Cup one of our matches was transmitted live on Canadian television, but only after the game had been going on for half an hour. Until then they were showing an important ice hockey game. Ice hockey is the nation's favourite sport and football just cannot compete at the moment.
But thanks to your win in the Gold Cup, Canada will be able to take part in the FIFA Confederations Cup. What will your feelings be as you travel to this competition next May?
For Canadian football it will be a great honour to take part in such a major competition. I hope and have full confidence that my team will continue to make progress in Korea and Japan and that we will put on a good show.
How do you rate the standard of the other teams in this competition?
Brazil and France have such a depth of talent that they can still do well even if a few of their stars are missing. Cameroon and Mexico will be keen to confirm their progress and will be very motivated to do well. Australia have a good number of players who are professionals in the English and German leagues and I expect them also to be strong. And the teams from the two host countries will be aiming to show that they too are in good form a year before they hold the World Cup. It should be an attractive and exciting competition.
How much interest in this tournament is being shown in Canada?
All our matches will be shown live on television, and that is a big step forward in itself. Canada's footballers are starting to be taken seriously, overseas as well. For example, we have been invited to play in the Copa America in Colombia this year, where we will be in a group with Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. Playing games against well-known teams is important for us and will help us to make further progress.
Was it a shock for Canadian football fans that just a few months after winning the Gold Cup you failed to get through the qualifying round for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™?
It was not really a shock but it certainly brought us down to earth again and must be rated as a disappointment. The big disadvantage for us was that our key players who are under contract to clubs in Europe were in the middle of their summer break when the World Cup qualifiers began. So they were not really fit and that is why we had no chance against teams like Trinidad and Tobago or Panama. Canada does not have a wide choice of above-average footballers, and the fans and the media are aware of this; that is why they were not so critical of my team when we failed to get through.
Do you think Canada will be able to break the dominance of Mexico and the USA in the CONCACAF region in the next few years?
Mexcio and the USA will have to watch out; there are a number of countries who have made great progress recently: Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and us.
What do you see as the advantages that Mexico and the USA have over Canada?
In Mexico the status of football is much higher than it is in Canada, and recently it has become more popular in the USA as well. In both countries there are a number of star players and strong national leagues, and international matches attract huge crowds. Mexico regularly have a turn-out of 70,000 for their games, but in Canada, although things have improved in the last two years, the support does not run anywhere near this level.
For what reasons do you think?
In Canada there is no national league, only provincial championships. The players are semi-professionals at best, and rarely is there a crowd of over 3000. There are three Canadian teams that play in a American professional league - Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto - and this has helped our national team in terms of spectators. When I took over as head coach two and a half years ago, there were between 8,000 and 10,000 per match. But the World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago attracted 30,000.
It seems that Canada has good juniors; the U-20 teams has qualified for the FIFA World Youth Cup finals in Argentina in June/July.
I am not only responsible for the national A team but also for the development of young players. In this respect I have started a number of new programmes. For example, our juniors now play in the Caribbean or Mexico or the USA during the long Canadian winter. There they can train or play against strong opposition. This really helps them to develop and obtain valuable experience, which they can use later in our national teams. Previously, they all used simply to play indoor football in the winter and had no real match practice. Today we have some outstanding players in every age group.
What motivated you to take the job of Canadian national trainer in October 1998?
It was an emotional rather than a rational decision. A few months earlier I had ended a spell of coaching in Turkey and wanted some time to relax and recover. Then I got an offer from the Canadian Football Association. I talked it over briefly with my wife and decided to take the job. I knew Canada already since I had played for Vancouver Whitecaps back in 1977. This time I ended up in Toronto, where I enjoy my work and my way of life.
What are your ambitions for Canada?
My dream would be to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. To be with Canada at the world's greatest sporting event in my own country would really be something.
Which means that you plan to stay in Canada for a while?
Immediately after we got knocked out of the World Cup qualifiers for Korea and Japan, the Canadian Football Association offered me an extension of my contract until 2006. Which other association would have done that? I was happy to sign, since my work here is by no means completed. There is a lot of potential in Canadian football, and I would like to help them develop it.