There must have been some lightning fast runners at the Montreal school Sita-Taty Matondo was at. The Canadian winger, the player whose turn of pace left the composed and athletic Brazilian back line floundering in his wake on more than a few occasions during the first half of their opening match, claims to have been only the sixth fastest in his year. Canada, who have lost both matches in Group C so far, will be looking to the Democratic Republic of Congo-born midfielder’s speed and ability against the Czech Republic on Thursday if they are to catch up the other teams and secure an unlikely spot in the last 16.
“I think I did well in the first half against Brazil and in the second half against Australia but I couldn’t find my shooting boots,” he says with a sorrowful expression. “We have to win tomorrow (Thursday) and the whole team has to play at their best.”
With his direct style, Matondo, or “Taty”, has been closely watched by more than a few Brazilian and Australian defenders since his first burst down the line brought gasps from the Dubai crowd. After moving from the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was 11, the player discovered the game he “loves” in Canada. Almost immediately, he impressed scouts from Montreal Impact and has moved through the club’s ranks before being called up by Canucks’ coach Dale Mitchell. Now, like many of his team-mates, he is ready to take the plunge and cross the Atlantic to the promised land of European football.
“I feel my time is running out,” the baby-faced 18-year old says. “Playing in Canada is not the same thing as in Europe. I would like to play in Belgium.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo may not have the richest footballing tradition in Africa but it has certainly supplied some outstanding players over the years. Among them are Chelsea’s Claude Makelele and Lomana Lua Lua – the striker who turns out for the same club, Newcastle United, as another Canadian player David Edgar.
“Taty’s certainly the quickest on our team,” says Edgar, when asked who was the faster. “But I’ve played against Lua Lua in training and I’d have to give it to him.”
At 16 and 1.88m, Edgar is both the youngest and tallest member of the Canadian squad. He has not played a minute of football in the UAE yet, but you would not know it from his happy, go-lucky attitude. P>“It’s a great experience just to be here, to be chosen for a world cup. I would love to get on for the Czech match but how can I complain?” he says warmly. “I’ve been impressed with the lads. We kept the ball really well against Australia, Hume (Iain) scored a cracker then hit the bar and we just conceded goals from little things.
“We’ll be hoping for better things against the Czechs. It would be huge for the country if we could get the win and maybe even qualify.”
The twinkle in Edgar’s eye hints at his story of a boy’s dream come true. Both his parents hail from Newcastle, England and his father, Eddie, even played one league game for the Magpies before they moved to Toronto nearly two decades ago. Fourteen years, most of them spent as a die-hard Newcastle United supporter, after Edgar was born, he was spotted by the famous club from the country’s north-east on a school tour of England and has gone on to gain his first professional contract.
“My mum was worried about me leaving at 14, but she accepted when I said I’d live with my gran,” he smiles, before revealing that now, two years on, he’d moved on to “digs”. “I love it! I can’t explain it to people back in Canada. We live, breathe it: football, football, football!”
Besides Lua Lua, Edgar has trained with many other first teamers.
“There are some great role models there and they’re very helpful,” he adds with a thick geordie accent. “Shearer is everybody’s idol at Newcastle – he’s a god there.”
Matondo and Edgar are two Canadian teenagers taking their first tentative pushes on the rollercoaster ride that is being a footballer. Fate, luck, character as well as ability have played and will continue to play a major role in whether they succeed or not. Points against the Czech Republic would not only be their first for two competitions but help shove football a touch more into Canada’s sporting limelight.