Thirty-six years later, Bob Lenarduzzi still regrets the scoring chance he missed at the World Cup tournament.
In 1986, the bookies placed heavy odds on Canada scoring a goal in Mexico. And they were proved right as the Canadian men lost 1-0 to France and 2-0 to Hungary in their first two outings at the tournament.
Lenarduzzi came close in Canada’s final Group C match at Estadio Sergio Leon Chavez in Irapuato, on a corner kick against the Soviet Union, only to have the ball off his foot in the penalty box. Canada was suspended again and lost 2-0 in its tournament final.
“An incredible chance,” said Lenarduzzi, a defender by profession.
“It was a terrible effort,” he added with a laugh.
“To this day, I’ll have people, older people, say, ‘You cost me a few dollars. If you had scored there, I would have done everything right.’ Whoever scores that first goal for Canada — and somebody’s going to do it in Qatar — they don’t know it, but they have to thank me for having that honor. Because I should have pushed.”
There were other chances in the day.
Against France, an Ian Bridge header was off target from a Mike Sweeney free-kick. And an Igor Vrablic shot was cleared by a defender after French goalkeeper Joel Bats was caught off his goal line.
But Canada is still waiting for its first score at the men’s soccer exhibition.
“It wasn’t a big deal for the team,” says forward Dale Mitchell, who was in the ’86 World Cup squad. “I know the oddsmakers said we wouldn’t score a goal and I think they got it right.
“But I think we just played the games and didn’t really think if we scored one goal and lost all three games it was going to be some kind of success. You try to compete as best you can and do your best to get a result.
“I think in all three games it wasn’t like we got anywhere near the opposition goal. It’s just that scoring at that level is definitely a challenge. We couldn’t do it at the time, but it’s not like there weren’t opportunities there.”
Canada has weapons at its disposal entering Qatar. Cyle Larin has 25 goals for Canada while Jonathan David has 22, Lucas Cavallini 17, Junior Hoilett 14 and Alphonso Davies 12.
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“It was great to see. There’s a lot of firepower in the team,” Mitchell, who scored 19 international goals, said of the Canadian attack. “There is a lot of pace in the team. Probably more than we would have had in ’86 in that regard. And maybe as much as we’ve ever had. It will be fun to watch for sure.”
Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who has seven Canada goals to his name, says scoring in Qatar is just a step toward a bigger goal.
“Obviously it will be very special for the country when we achieve our first goal,” he said. “You really are going to be remembered forever. But I don’t think that’s really the focus. The focus is to get the first win. This is what we look forward to.
“For us it really doesn’t matter who scores, as long as someone does and we can win the game. I think people look forward to the first win more than just the first goal.”
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Canada had talent before 1986. Mitchell, Vrablic and George Pakos accounted for nine of Canada’s 11 goals in qualifying.
Mitchell was 28 when the tournament started while Vrablic was 20.
“I think Dale, like (captain) Bruce (Wilson), in this day and age we’re in (now), would be a very good player in MLS and possibly abroad as well,” Lenarduzzi said. “And Igor was a good young man. He wasn’t really overwhelmed by the moment. He was quite confident, maybe bordering on arrogant, but that’s what I think made him a good player.”
Mitchell’s preparation for the World Cup was derailed when he injured his anterior cruciate ligament before the final round of qualifying. He played against English side Everton at the Varsity Stadium in Toronto in 1985.
“In 1983, ’84, ’85, I played pretty much all the time,” said Mitchell, who coached the national team from 2007 to ’09. “And then I came back from this injury. I was ready to play in ’86, but I didn’t actually start until the third game against Russia.”
“I played one game out of three, I wish I would have played three,” he added.
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Canada’s Group F opponents in Qatar are no strangers to scoring at the World Cup, especially no. 2 Belgium and no. 12 Croatia.
Croatia outscored its opposition 14-9 at the 2018 World Cup and lost 4-2 to France in the final. Belgium finished third in Russia, with a 16-6 edge in goals. Morocco, currently ranked 22nd in the world, did not make it out of the opening round, being eliminated 4-2 in three games.
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