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  • Tuesday, July 11, 2000

    Holger's Heroes on a roll

    By SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

     There are only certain numbers Holger Osieck pays attention to.

     The head coach of Canada's national soccer team carefully determines the 11 men that take to the pitch and he's well aware of the unprecedented 15-game unbeaten streak his side is riding. He has done a fine job, though, of ignoring the number of places the Canucks have climbed in the FIFA world rankings.

     It seems odd that Osieck wouldn't have a clue where Canada now sits among the elite soccer nations. But he does remember the depths the team wallowed in when he took over in September of 1998.

     "Fifty-five ... really? What a surprise. When I started we were 104," said Osieck one day before he gathered his troop in Southern Ontario for training prior to Sunday's contest at Commonwealth Stadium against Trinidad and Tobago.

     "People kept asking me how Canada could be in that position, and I didn't have a clue."

     WINS AND LOSSES

     That, however, is as far as Osieck, whose crew has accelerated up the FIFA chart by 26 spots alone so far this year, will go when it comes to discussing the international pecking order. Wins and losses in World Cup 2002 qualifying is the concerning issue. It doesn't matter, he explained, if Canada topples T&T, which is seeded 37th, or manufactures another stunning victory over 11th-ranked Mexico just as it did during the Gold Cup, because those numbers are irrelevant.

     It's the accumulated points in the four-team group that are significant. Finishing in the top two puts the Maple Leaf Gang one step closer to the pinnacle of football achievement.

     "The rankings don't mean anything. What matters is that we get our points in the qualification round," said the German-born and bred skipper, who was an assistant with the 1990 World Cup champs.

     "When we play Panama - they're 90th or whatever - and we lose, what kind of benefit do you have from the rankings? But you lose the three points, so stats aren't too important to me."

     What is critical to Osieck is that Team Canada continues to display this never-before-seen sense of pride in playing for the country. It became obvious during the Gold Cup title run and has carried over into the World Cup qualifiers.

     The players have accepted Osieck's rigourous demands and relished the results of their efforts. Since taking the reigns of the program from Bobby Lenarduzzi, Osieck has amassed an impressive 12-3-6 record - the last defeat coming one year ago, 2-0 to Saudi Arabia.

     "Everybody is very committed and everybody wants to give more than 100 per cent for the team," said Osieck.

     "Apart from that, we have grown together and found an understanding and acceptance and our style of play has definitely developed."

     Along the way, Osieck has offered up major roles to the nation's best up-and-comers like Davide Xausa, Jim Brennan and Jason Bent, and they've responded by stepping to the forefront.

     "When you look at our roster and the number of caps they had when I started and look at the caps they have now, they started from scratch and now they're between 15 and 20 and we've played some decent teams. That has given them a lot of international experience.

     NO SECRET

     "It's not a secret. Whenever you give a player the impression that you trust him, that you have confidence in him, then he definitely can perform well. If there's any doubt or any concern, then you never get the maximum out of a player."

     Osieck shies away from taking lump-sum credit for Canada's sudden turnaround, but the success has certainly been pleasing to watch from the sidelines. There is the question of whether the Canadians play the most attractive soccer possible, but no one within the organization frets about that when the fortunate results keep stacking up.

     "Every coach has got his own ideas and philosophies and the way we've developed our game has been most definitely positive," Osieck declared.

     "The key to success in any sport - American football, hockey, basketball - is good discipline, good order, a well-organized defence and from there you can develop your game.

     "The reason why we've been successful is that we're strong as a team and everybody contributes to the team and not to himself."



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