With some of the best players in the country's history, Canada are hoping for big things at the start of the first CONCACAF group phase of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Captain Paul Stalteri, who has spent most of a sparkling career in the top flight in Germany and England, will be leading the Canuck charge.
The full-back sat down for a brief chat with FIFA.com.
"The team is coming together in a good way at the moment," said the defender, who marshalled the Canadian rearguard in their 7-1 aggregate win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the last round. "We have a good blend of older players and some young kids coming through. We're happy about the combination of talent we have in the team and, so far, we're playing some good soccer."
The combination of players includes a handful from Europe's top flights, a new and welcome trend in the Canadian national team. The outstanding Julian De Guzman spearheads the foreign brigade as one of Deportivo La Coruna's top performers in recent years. Tomasz Radzinski of Skoda Xanthi in Greece and FC Copenhagen's Atiba Hutichinson also figure in a Canuck squad that roared all the way to the semis of last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Stalteri, though always modest, is pleased with the team's overall style as well as their recent results. "Canada is not just a team that will come out and give it their all and defend," said the 30-year-old former Werder Bremen full-back. "We have a good core of players who like to attack and play a bit of fast, intricate passing football."
In addition to a raft of Europe-based players, the Canadians also boast three-time MLS champion Dwayne De Rosario in the creator's role and goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who plays alongside 'D-Ro' in Houston, between the posts.
Even so, the North Americans will be considered long shots to make it through their first-round group. Drawn with such regional giants as Mexico, Jamaica and Honduras, Stalteri knows his men will have their work cut out.
"This is my third attempt at qualifying," said the captain, who is expecting to return to Tottenham next month after being loaned out to Fulham last season. "I've never seen a tougher-looking group than this one we've ended up in. But we really can't get caught up in worrying about that. We'd eventually need to beat these teams anyway if we want to make it to the World Cup, so let's just get on with it."
"You'd have to be a fool to not say Mexico are the favourites," the 67-times capped defender went on. "It seems they always qualify for the World Cup and they are loaded with great players."
South Africa hopes
The ultimate aim for the current crop of Canadians is a return to the FIFA World Cup finals, a feat the country has not achieved since 1986, when they lined up at the finals in Mexico for the first time. Top marksman at the time was one Dale Mitchell, current head coach of Team Canada.
"He [Dale] has come in and done a real good job," said Stalteri of the new boss, who graduated from youth coach last year. "He's not one of those managers who shouts and talks all the time, which makes it all the more meaningful when he tells you to do something."
The Canadians open their group campaign on 20 August in Toronto against a Ricardo Gardner-led Jamaica hoping for nothing less than a full three points.
"We'll be gunning for a win in the first game at home," he said. "Sometimes it's good to start at home and sometimes it's not. Jamaica are a good team, but we'll be going hard at them, because if you lose that first game you find yourself behind the eight-ball and playing catch up the rest of the time."
One thing the Canadian players can count on this time out is strong home support, with football gaining increasing interest in the country normally associated with Ice Hockey.
"Fans are excited to see some goals and some good attacking soccer," said the sturdy team leader. "Hopefully they come out in numbers on the 20th and it can be the start of something big for us and for them."