Depor's De Guzman drives Canada
If Canada are to fulfil the promise of their shock 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup debut - a 2-1 comeback victory over Central American champions Costa Rica in Miami on Thursday - they will no doubt be looking to the hero of the opener to continue his hot streak.
Twenty-six-year-old Deportivo la Coruna midfielder Julian de Guzman was the undisputed star of the opening day of the region's biennial championship. His pair of outstanding goals in the 57th and 73rd minutes overturned Tico Walter Centeno's opener and powered the North American underdogs to just their fourth victory over the Central Americans in 17 matches.
The equaliser, which came just a minute after the opener, was particularly important for the Canucks, and showed a much-needed resilience in the side not known for scoring goals. "It's a dream really, and I'm very happy," the promising Toronto native told FIFA.com, after the Group A encounter in a rain-soaked Orange Bowl in Miami.
"The first goal I scored was the turning point," he continued. "We were playing well enough that we felt like we didn't deserve to be losing to Costa Rica. Going in I thought we should get a point, but that equaliser gave us a lot of extra momentum."
Veteran creator Dwayne De Rosario, of Major League Soccer champions Houston Dynamo, was in total agreement about the importance of the 20-yard angled shot from his travelling roommate. "The first goal was huge because we were playing well but Costa Rica scored with their first chance, and I thought 'oh no'."
In fact, the 94th placed team on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking went from strength to strength after equalising, and got the winner they deserved from the rising Depor talent. Team coach Stephen Hart wasn't surprised by the goals, saying De Guzman "knows how to take chances and in the second half a couple fell for him. He scored two great goals."
But he was quick to explain that the player's game is about more than just impressive strikes. "Julian hasn't always been given enough credit for his work off the ball," Hart commented. "Last night he kept possession and dictated the action. All I wanted from him was to take command and show leadership in the middle of the field, and he did just that."
De Guzman's curling shot after beating two defenders was a fair indication of the overall confidence that Canada displayed in the second half. Not only was the victory over Costa Rica special for its rarity, but the quality of football on display was a revelation.
"This team feels great together right now and we're playing great football," revealed De Rosario. "Costa Rica was ready for us to play the long ball, but we took it to them, played the ball on the ground and penetrated at every chance. I don't think they could get up to our speed."
"We were totally able to kill their midfield," said match-winner De Guzman. "We had room to play and we really forced them into hitting long balls."
Having seen his team hit a hot vein in his temporary charge - he's covering for Dale Mitchell, who is preparing his team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil - Hart was proud of the performance.
"I was most surprised with the consistency of our play, not the result," he said. "In one game, anything can happen, but we approached the match well and put in a solid performance all around."
"Canada has a lot of players that can play at the highest level," said De Guzman, who has played for clubs in France, Germany and Spain since 2005. "Results like this are very important for our future. Hopefully this will go on to lead to more success in this tournament and beyond."
And what of this tournament that they won in 2000, recording their only major international honour? Can the promising side make it through Group A and then compete with the likes of the USA and Mexico?
"We knew the first game was important," coach Hart admitted, "But we've been here before and not advanced, so we are just trying to reach the quarter-final. It may sound clichéd, but it is just one game at a time for us."
"The team in 2000 came together at the right time and had some luck," said De Rosario, one of four players on that previous continental championship-winning side. "That team worked hard for each other and we gritted out a lot of results. This team plays much better soccer, but we can grit out results too."
Next up for Canada on Saturday 9 June is a clash with surprise packages Guadeloupe, who unexpectedly drew their opener with Haiti.