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  • Tuesday, May 9, 2000

    Another brick in Canadian wall missing

    By NEIL DAVIDSON -- Canadian Press


     @TEXT:
     Canadian soccer coach Holger Osieck has lost another important part of his defence in the run-up to a crucial World Cup qualifier early next month.

     Mark Watson, Canada's most experienced defender with 54 caps, will miss the home-and-away playoff against either Barbados or Cuba. Canada must win to advance to the semifinal round of qualifying for CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

     The loss of Watson, to a calf injury, comes on the heels of news that first-string goalkeeper Craig Forrest is out after undergoing a hernia operation. Wingback Jim Brennan has been sidelined for the same reason.

     Osieck does have options in goal. He has called up backup Pat Onstad and Olympic team 'keepers Mike Franks and Lars Hirschfeld.

     And he has a pair of exhibition games -- May 27 in Toronto against Trinidad and Tobago and May 30 in Winnipeg against Honduras -- to check out all three.

     Onstad would normally get the nod but he is coming off knee surgery and has seen little action all season.

     "I'm not pleased with the situation," Osieck said Tuesday. "Pat has not played for quite a while, so it's still an open question."

     Osieck can still look to captain Jason deVos, Tony Menezes and Richard Hastings to anchor his backline. Paul Fenwick and Jeff Clarke are also available.

     But Watson offers some bite. At the team's first scrimmage under Holger Osieck at a camp in Duisburg, Germany, he objected to a tackle from Davide Xausa and sent his teammate flying through the air with a shove to the chest. Watson was advancing towards the fallen Xausa when teammates stepped in.

     Watson, who scored the winning goal in the Gold Cup semifinal win over Trinidad and Tobago, is Canada's hard man and will be missed.

     Still Osieck is philosophical about the holes in his roster.

     "It's definitely a situation I'm used to," he said.

     Winger Ante Jazic will also be a no-show for the four-game stint. He is scheduled to have a tonsillectomy the week the Canadian team gathers for a camp in Alliston, Ont., prior to the Trinidad and Tobago game.

     Jazic, who plays for Hajduk Split in Croatia, has also been the subject of interest from the Croatian federation.

     Osieck was in Cuba on the weekend watching the first leg of the Barbados-Cuba playoff that will produce Canada's opponent next month.

     The game ended in a 1-1 tie, which gives Barbados the upper hand heading into the May 21 rematch. The Barbadians scored a crucial away goal, which will count double in the event of a tie, and can afford to play for the draw at home.

     "Definitely Cuba was the stronger team but they didn't play very convincingly," Osieck said.

     Cuba is actually ranked higher than Barbados, No. 75 compared to No. 110.

     Canada, ranked 63rd, will open the playoff on the road June 4 with the return leg either June 11 or 18 in Winnipeg.



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