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  • Sunday, May 28, 2000

    Canadian fans rally around Holger's squad

     TORONTO (CP) -- After Jeff Clarke headed in the goal that gave Canada a 1-0 exhibition soccer win over Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday, the Vancouver wingback led his teammates towards the packed west stand at Varsity Stadium to celebrate.
     
     What awaited them was something new.
     
     A sea of Canadian flags and sweaters, cheering drum-beating fans, horns and even some pyrotechnics.
     
     When the smoke cleared, the players were stunned.
     
     "It was the first time that I've ever played in Canada and it was a pro-Canada crowd. It was fantastic," said striker Carlo Corazzin, a veteran of 40 internationals.
     
     "We scored the goal, I looked back and all I could see was Canadian flags."
     
     The soldout crowd of 8,870 was in stark contrast to past games at Varsity where the bulk of the stands are usually filled by fans of the visiting side.
     
     Iran, Jamaica, Guatemala. It didn't matter who was playing. The visiting team got more cheers than the home side. Plus the only soccer sweaters in evidence usually belonged to Inter Milan, Juventus or Manchester United.
     
     Game promoters didn't help matters by marketing the game to specific ethnic groups. The strategy sold tickets but also stacked the crowd in favour of the visitors.
     
     It was a trend that rankled the Canadian players, many of whom braved long trips back home often at the expense of their position with their overseas club.
     
     And coach Holger Osieck, a German native who is not afraid to speak his mind, was quick to complain that he couldn't understand why people who had elected to live in Canada were not supporting their adopted country.
     
     Osieck has found a way to persuade fans to rally around his team, however. He has put together a winner.
     
     "I was amazed, it was beautiful," Osieck said of the crowd Saturday.
     
     "It's a good feeling to have people behind you."
     
     Under Osieck, whose record as coach is 10-3-5, Canada is undefeated in 12 games and is champion of CONCACAF after winning the Gold Cup.
     
     "There's no doubt that results breed confidence, breed interest," said Corazzin. "We've probably brought a few people out that may never come out because of the Gold Cup."
     
     The Ontario Soccer Association played a big role Saturday in filling the stands, selling about half of the tickets itself.
     
     "The old message of always playing in front a visiting crowd, today, was put to bed," said Kevan Pipe, chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association.
     
     "And that's a result in terms of the investment over the last year and winning the Gold Cup.
     
     "There's something significant to cheer for now."
     
     The Canadians leave today for Winnipeg, where they play Honduras on Tuesday in another exhibition game.
     
     Then it's off to Havana for the June 4 first leg of a home-and-away playoff with Cuba to determine which team advances to the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. The return match is June 11 in Winnipeg.



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