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  • Wednesday, July 19, 2000

    Canada invited to Copa America

    By NEIL DAVIDSON -- The Canadian Press

     It's official. Canada has been invited to next year's Copa America, the unofficial South American soccer championship.

     And it looks like Canada could be going, possible setting up such unheard-of matchups as Corazzin and Cafu, Stalteri and Salas, and Brennan and Batistuta.

     "It's a great opportunity for us," Canadian coach Holger Osieck said Wednesday from his team's training base in Alliston, Ont. "It's a very prestigious tournament. To get invited is a great honour for Canada. It has never happened before. If we can make it, I think we should go."

     The official letter arrived last week, in the form of a copy of the invitation from CONMEBOL, the South American federation, to CONCACAF. Mexico has also been invited.

     By virtue of its Gold Cup win in February, Canada is also invited to the 2001 Confederation Cup, a lucrative tournament that features regional champions around the world. The Confederation Cup would consist of three to five games for Canada.

     Combine that with a 10-game schedule next year in the final round of World Cup qualifying for CONCACAF teams and Canada's 2001 schedule appeared to be running over. Canadian soccer officials, concerned that they might have trouble calling up players from their clubs for some many internationals, had previously suggested they might give Copa a miss.

     But Kevan Pipe, chief operation officer of the Canadian Soccer Association, says it is still under consideration and that the timing of the tournament may fit in Canada's schedule.

     "It's of great interest, it's very attractive and we've just got to start looking at 2001," Pipe said.

     Copa America would take place July 12-29 in Colombia, with the Confederations Cup scheduled for early August. Time and place of that tournament will be determined by FIFA early next month, although there has been suggestions it will be staged in Japan and South Korea as a test event in advance of the 2002 World Cup.

     "The timing for Copa America is actually quite perfect from that perspective," Pipe said.

     Twelve teams took part in the '99 Copa: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Mexico and Japan were invited as guest teams.

     Brazil won its second straight title, blanking Uruguay 3-0 in Asuncion, Paraguay, last July.

     Canada would benefit financially from Copa America although the purse wouldn't be as big as that of the Confederations Cup, which split $9 million US between eight teams last year.

     Copa America would also be a huge boost for the profile of the Canadians.

     And while no one would dare say it, Copa would be a nice fallback position if Canada failed to make it out of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying.

     ------

     FIFA DATES: Canada plans to point out some holes in FIFA's plan for a unified international calendar at the world governing body of soccer's annual congress in Zurich next month.

     FIFA has revamped the calendar so, for example, the 10 dates for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying games are the same as those for European internationals. Top European leagues close down those weeks to allow their players to free them up for internationals.

     But the lower domestic leagues keep playing, which means more club versus country pressures on Canadian players.

     "That's been the hidden negative atmosphere of the international calendar," said Pipe. "It's geared principally, if not exclusively, towards premier leagues or various national first divisions."

     Free agents such as Carlo Corazzin and Mark Watson have complained that clubs interested in their services have told them that their international commitments are a hindrance to being hired.

     "It's a very stressful situation for those guys and certainly we'll be documenting that for FIFA," Pipe said.

     ------

     NOTES: Longtime NPSL commissioner Steve Paxos has stepped down after 12 years to pursue ownership of his own team in the indoor league ... The Northern Conference in the W-League is going down to the wire with Toronto (6-5-1) leading Laval (5-5-1) and Ottawa (5-5-2). The conference winner advances to the playoffs after the 14-game regular season is over. Laval hosts New Hampshire on Saturday before entertaining Toronto in a key game ... Goalkeeper Brian Bowes, striker John Matus and Canadian international midfielder-forward Elvis Thomas, all of the Toronto Olympians of the Canadian Professional Soccer League, and striker Leo Marasovic of the CPSL Toronto Croatia left Wednesday for tryouts in Greece with several pro teams.



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