New number one for Canada fans
© Foto-net

Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault is a big name in more ways than one, despite Canada's desperately disappointing early exit from the FIFA U-20 World Cup after their 2-0 defeat against Congo. Only one young man among their ranks emerged as a hero amid three successive losses without scoring a goal in Group A but fame came in a way that Beaulieu-Bourgault could not possibly have imagined beforehand.

In the 73rd minute against Congo, Canada goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, playing in front of his hometown crowd in Edmonton, had one of those nightmare moments he will remember for the rest of his career. He charged far out of his area to close down a long through-ball and instinctively handled as it skidded up off the rain-soaked turf, denying Congo a clear goalscoring opportunity. The red card was inevitable, as was the player's instant remorse. "I panicked. I couldn't believe it and I can't explain it. It was just a reaction, a brain freeze.... I don't know what happened," Begovic said.

Unfortunately for Canada, coach Dale Mitchell, had only just sent on the last of his three permitted substitutes so one of the outfield players had to pull on the gloves and goalkeeper's jersey. Up stepped Beaulieu-Bourgault to volunteer for a job he had never had to any serious degree in his career. "It was quite hard and everybody didn't know what to do so I just took a decision to do it. I did it for the team," the midfielder explained afterwards, still clutching the match ball as an unusual souvenir.

"I'm more defensive and I left the offensive guys on to go forward to try to score a goal, so that was why. I've gone in goal just having fun playing in parks or during training sometimes but I have not really done it before." His team-mates were more than grateful that he took on the responsibility, as striker Andrea Lombardo revealed: "The way our team is nobody wanted to go in because we wanted to stay out on the field. Me, Will Johnson and David Edgar were looking at each other saying: 'Are you going to go in? What about you?' It ended up just being Jonathan." Edgar admitted he was just glad it was not him.

The first thing Beaulieu-Bourgault had to do was protect Canada's goal from the resulting free-kick and the tumultuous acclaim he got from the crowd when he made a save marked the start of what appeared to be a whole new ball game at Commonwealth Stadium. Trailing by two and needing to win by three clear goals, the Voyageurs were not so far in denial that they could not see the writing on the wall by this point. They knew Canada were on the way out and so instead turned to the St Pauli star for inspiration. The last 17 minutes became a celebration of Beaulieu-Bourgault's heroics for Canada fans as he made a series of stops - some more unorthodox than others - to keep the final score at 2-0.

Nerves settled
"For sure I was a little bit nervous but after a minute I felt quite good and I could relax a little bit," the 18-year-old said. "To do something that you like, even if you play in another position, was quite a fun first experience. The crowd helped a lot. They were really good, not just at the end but all during the game, so it was quite impressive. Going in net was a team decision and I was a little bit scared but after the first free-kick it was OK."

Canada boss Mitchell was also full of admiration and he said. "Jonathan was big enough and good enough to volunteer to do that and he did a great job. He made some good saves and that's not an easy thing to do. He didn't let a goal in and he performed well back there."

Mitchell now steps up to coach the men's senior team with the task of getting Canada to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, hoping to achieve something the country has not managed either before or since he was a part of the squad that made it to the 1986 finals in Mexico.

After guiding the U-20 team through three successive World Cups, with a best finish of making the quarter-finals in 2003, nobody would appear better suited to lead this crop of players into the future, though he concedes that becoming the first host nation to depart without scoring has left him and his players hurting a lot.

"We asked the boys at the beginning of the tournament to go and test themselves out against the best U-20 players in the world and they had a great opportunity to do that but we have fallen short as a team," Mitchell said. "They got stronger as the tournament went on but clearly we ran out of games to get the results in."