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Canadian men looks to take next soccer step against CONCACAF rival Panama

11/17/2014 04:53 EST | Updated 01/17/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Canada looks to kick-start its rise from the depths of the FIFA rankings when it takes on Panama on Tuesday in the unfriendly confines of Panama City.

Canada currently languishes at a career-low No. 122, sandwiched between Niger and Liberia. FIFA also has the Canadian men ranked 16th in CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Panama stands 56th in the world and fourth in CONCACAF.

Canadian coach Benito Floro is pragmatic about the low-rent soccer neighbourhood his team is currently occupying in the rankings.

While acknowledging that Central American countries play more games than Canada so can collect more points in the rankings, Floro is not making excuses.

"I think it's fair," the Spaniard said via an interpreter Monday in a media conference call from Panama City. "We're trying to improve and to get more games to try to improve in the rankings."

Canada's best ranking was No. 40, achieved in December 1996. Its average ranking is 76 since the ratings began in August 1993.

Under Floro, Canada is 1-5-3, having defeated Jamaica, lost to Colombia, Mauritania, Australia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia and tied Mauritania, Bulgaria and Moldova.

The Jamaica victory in September ended a 16-game winless slide that started prior to Floro and included a 10-game 959-minute scoring drought.

On the plus side, Canada is 1-1-2 in 2014, performing admirably most recently in a 1-0 loss to third-ranked Colombia.

Floro, whose coaching resume includes a stint at Real Madrid from 1992 to 1994 as well as teams in Spain, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico and Morocco, says results are "not very very important for us." His emphasis continues to be teaching and getting the tactics and style of play right.

"He's very detailed and I think the players are really starting to see the results of buying into his ideas," said veteran forward Dwayne De Rosario.

Panama will be a stiff test at home, which is just what Floro wants. He knows his team will have to get used to the heat and hostility in Central America when it comes to matches that count.

Canada lost 2-0 at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in World Cup qualifying in September 2012 just four days after beating the Panamanians 1-0 at Toronto's BMO Field on a 77th-minute De Rosario goal.

The local fans subjected the Canadians to a loud, all-night party outside their hotel last time in Panama City. That shouldn't happen this time since both teams are sharing the same hotel.

Floro's current squad in Panama features a select group of veterans with a lot of youth.

Six of the starters from that 2012 Panama loss are in Floro's tour party: goalie Lars Hirschfeld, defender David Edgar, midfielders Patrice Bernier, Julian de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson and De Rosario. Four of the substitutes that day are also in the current Canadian squad.

Canada and Panama tied 0-0 at Denver in the 2013 Gold Cup, the last game before Floro took charge

Asked about young forward Lucas Cavallini, who is not in camp, Floro said he was an "interesting player" who had declined numerous invitations to join the national team.

"Right now he will have to wait for the other strikers that have been showing up to see what the development is and what's going to happen with them," he said.

Floro was also asked about Ethan Finlay and Tesho Akindele, two MLS players who can also play for the United States.

Floro said he has been following Finlay but the Columbus Crew winger would have to come to a national team camp to be evaluated properly. Akindele turned down an invitation for this camp with Floro saying the FC Dallas forward "has a very tough decision to make right now."

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