Canada's futsal team looks to buck the odds and take a step forward on the world stage Wednesday when it opens a two-game series against the U.S. in Costa Rica.
The Canadians, led by coach Kyt Selaidopoulos, need to beat the Americans in the two-game aggregate series to advance to the main field of the CONCACAF Futsal Championship which starts Sunday in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Futsal is a five-a-side indoor game, played in 25-minute halves on a basketball-sized court with goals measuring three by two metres.
The Canada-U.S., winner will join Costa Rica, Curacao and Cuba in Group B of the CONCACAF championship. Like Canada, Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago will meet Wednesday and Thursday to see who joins Guatemala, Mexico and Panama in Group A.
The tournament will send four teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean to the 24-country FIFA Futsal World Cup this September in Colombia.
The U.S. has qualified for five of the seven previous Futsal World Cups, finishing third in 1989 and runner-up in 1992.
Canada has not qualified for the Futsal World Cup since the inaugural event in 1989 in the Netherlands, where it failed to advance from the first round after beating Japan and losing to Argentina and Belgium.
"Are we the underdog? Sure we can be the underdog but right now our focus is on what we can do and how we can get by the Americans," Selaidopoulos said from Costa Rica. "We're not going to sit here and focus on what they have done, how many World Cups they have done, how long coach (Keith) Tozer has been coaching. Right now our mission is how we get by the Americans. We have a plan and we're going to stick to it."
"Everybody believes this is it, we can beat the Americans," he added.
Tozer is a North American indoor soccer icon with more than 700 coaching wins. He was named interim U.S. coach in 1996 before taking over as head coach two years later.
Selaidopoulos, who has represented Canada in both futsal and beach soccer, has been tasked with growing some of the lesser known forms of soccer in Canada.
"It's steps. Right now we're at Step 1," he said. "We get into CONCACAF, we pass Step 1. Then we go to Step 2, then we go to Step 3, then we go to Step 4. It doesn't happen overnight and we're not going to rush anything.
"Back home we are working to promote more futsal and do more coaching clinics and work with the provinces so we can get it off (the ground)."
The Americans have travelled to Argentina, Croatia, and England in preparation for their playoff series against Canada. Selaidopoulos has had a more modest advance program but says he has been watching players with their clubs every weekend since being appointed coach in February.
Already qualified for the Futsal World Cup are host Colombia, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Mozambique, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Thailand, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Brazil has dominated the world scene, winning five of the seven Futsal World Cups including the last two. Spain won the other two titles and has finished runner-up to Brazil three times.
Joshua Lemos, Toronto United Futsal; David Campusano, Futsal Club Toronto; Desmond Humphrey, Toronto United Futsal; Eduardo Jauregui, Futsal Club Toronto; Matias Dimarc, Toronto Idolo Futsal; Ian Bennett, Milwaukee Wave; Vahid Assadpour, Missouri Comets; Nazim Belguendouz, FC Grenadiers; Frederico Moojen, St. Louis Ambush; Marco Rodriguez, Toronto United Futsal; Daniel Chamale, Futsal Club Toronto; Jacob Orellana, Toronto Idolo Futsal; Robert Renaud, Alibiceleste Futsal Club; Vincent Cournoyer, unattached.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press