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  • Thursday, August 31, 2000

    Canadians need a win to avoid early World Cup qualifying exit

     TORONTO (CP) -- The Canadian soccer team heads for Trinidad on Friday knowing anything but a win Sunday will end its World Cup campaign almost before it started.

     Coach Holger Osieck has had to spend some of the week working on morale, although he says that has more to do with some players' individual situations with their clubs rather than the national team's predicament.

     "Some of the guys are carrying some luggage from their home environment where things are not too good," he said from the team's training base in Alliston, Ont.

     "I'm doing a lot of talking with the guys to get them away from all that negative stuff."

     The down-in-the-dumps gang includes veteran defender Mark Watson, who has yet to find a new team after failing to come to terms with Oxford United, with his international responsibilities a major stumbling block in contact negotiations. Striker Paul Peschisolido is also glum after seeing little action with Fulham with rumours the First Division side is trying to sell him.

     Canada is 0-2-1 halfway through the semifinal round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region. Trinidad and Tobago are 3-0-0 and lead Group C ahead of Mexico (2-1-0) while Canada and Panama (both 0-2-1) bring up the rear. Only the top two teams in each group advance to the final qualifying round.

     Canada's lone chance of cracking the top two is to win its three remaining games and hope Panama helps out by taking points away from the other two teams.

     "It's very difficult for us now," injured goalkeeper Craig Forrest conceded Thursday from England. "We're almost out before we've even got started."

     The maximum number of points Canada can collect is 10 and Trinidad and Tobago already has nine while Mexico has six.

     It seems unlikely Trinidad will finish out the round without adding to its points total. And the Mexicans, 41-0-3 in World Cup qualifying play at their Mexico City fortress of Azteca Stadium, can be expected to pile up points from their two remaining home games.

     A loss or a tie Sunday (CTV Sportsnet, 4 p.m. EDT) and Canada can forget about such permutations. The World Cup dream is over.

     The Canadians haven't played all that badly but have suffered from a lack of firepower up front. Canada hasn't scored in four games, including the Canadian leg of a playoff against Cuba just to reach this round of qualifying.

     Striker Carlo Corazzin goes into Sunday's game on little rest. He played for Oldham Athletic in England on Saturday and Tuesday night before flying across the Atlantic. A five-hour-plus flight awaits him and the rest of the team Friday afternoon.

     While Canada needs a win, Osieck says he doesn't plan radical changes in personnel or formation. For one thing, he only has a limited hand to draw from.

     "We have to play our game," he explained. "If we talk too much about scoring and results, that can lead to some tension inside and that's not what we should have there."

     If anything, the huge odds stacked against the Canadians may help, with Osieck sending out a team that has little to lose given that many people have already written off their chances. And players like Peschisolido may relish the chance to see some action.

     Star striker Dwight Yorke is expected to start Sunday for Trinidad and Tobago despite an infected toe that sidelined him from Manchester United's 2-2 tie with West Ham last Saturday. The host team will also be bolstered by the return from suspension of skipper Russell Latapy, who plays for Scotland's Hibernian. But Reading defender Anthony Rougier is out with a sore ankle.

     Canada will be missing midfielder Paul Stalteri, who is sitting out a one-game suspension after getting two yellow cards.

     Notes: Canadian sweeper Tony Menezes, because he is based in Brazil, and midfielder Jason Bent, because he played Wednesday night in the Colorado Rapids' 3-1 win over the Miami Fusion, are flying directly to Port-of-Spain ... Midfielder Martin Nash is nursing a sore ankle ... T&T is No. 29 in the FIFA world rankings while Canada is No. 56. ... Prior to France 98, Canada breezed through a weaker semifinal round of qualifying with a 5-0-1 record against Cuba, El Salvador and Panama. Of course, Canada crashed in the final round of qualifying.



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