The Press in Cannes |  Cinema at the crossroads

in 1986

In 1986, Patrick Roy left us all speechless. And Maradona left us all gaga. It was the end of my first year in high school. The Canadiens had just beaten the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Final in late May, thanks to their rookie goaltender. A week later, the Canadians participated in the first soccer World Cup in their history.

I was 13 years old and didn’t realize how much I took these two exceptional events for granted. The Canadian, who had been a Stanley Cup champion one year out of two since my birth, has only won one other final in nearly 30 years. And 36 years passed before meeting the Canadians in the World Cup, this Wednesday against the Belgian Red Devils.

The 1986 World Cup was to be held in Colombia, unprepared to host the competition due to serious economic difficulties (drug cartels do not fill the state coffers, it seems). It was therefore Mexico who took over despite an earthquake that left almost 10,000 dead and 30,000 injured, a few months before the start of the tournament.

Besides the host country, Canada was the only other CONCACAF representative qualified for the competition. Even the United States failed to find a place among the 24 participating nations. With the broadcast of the World Cup on Radio-Canada, we were soon able to discover the team of Canada coach Tony Waiters of England, thanks to reports from Camille Dubé, the late Jean Pagé, Francis Millien and Georges Schwartz, the passionate jeweler for soccer. , to whom colleague Robert Frosi dedicated a documentary, Georges Schwartz the protesterbroadcast on RDI, this Friday at 8:00 p.m.

Team Canada executives included Bobby Lenarduzzi, Bruce Wilson, Ian Bridge, Randy Samuel, Paul James, Gerry Gray, Igor Vrablic, Carl Valentine, and Dale Mitchell (who had played for the defunct Manic of Montreal a few years earlier). Among the 23 players on the list, there was only one Québecois: Tino Lettieri, born in Italy but raised in Montreal, who was Canada’s starting goalkeeper in their second and third games. Lettieri is the father of Vinni, a forward for the Boston Bruins organization.

It was Igor Vrablic who secured this first qualification for Canada, in September 1985, thanks to a knee goal in minute minute of a 2-1 elimination game over Honduras in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Vrablic, a 20-year-old striker who had just signed a contract in the Greek first division with Olimpiakos, was embroiled in a match-fixing scandal shortly after the World Cup with three of his teammates from the national team. They were accused of accepting $100,000 in bribes. Vrablic never played for Canada again.

As the NASL (in which both the Manic and the New York Cosmos played) had ceased activities in 1984, most Canadian players played primarily indoor soccer at home and in the United States. Some did not even have a professional contract when they went to Mexico.

To say that preparing for the most important soccer competition in Canadian history was less than ideal is an understatement.

However, the Canadians entered the tournament with some hope. They were the reigning CONCACAF champions (the equivalent of the Gold Cup) and were eliminated on penalties by Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The Reds neutralized the Blues, reigning European champions, until the minute, before Frenchman Jean-Pierre Papin, a revelation for FC Bruges, converted one of his many chances in the game.

Five years later, JPP (for those close to him) would become, with the Olympique de Marseille jersey, one of the five Frenchmen in history to win the Ballon d’Or -after Raymond Kopa and Michel Platini, and before Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema, a month ago.

After that very respectable 1-0 loss to France, Canada lost 2-0 to Hungary and then again 2-0 to the Soviet Union. Three honorable results, but not a single goal. Against the USSR, Bobby Lenarduzzi, the future coach of the national team, froze two meters from the Soviet cage, only with the ball at his feet, like a deer in front of the headlights of a car in the Glacier National Park.

It was the closest Canada had come to scoring in a World Cup game. After decades of disappointing performances and humiliating defeats, sometimes against modest Caribbean soccer nations, hardly anyone believed that the Canadians would return to the biggest sporting competition on the planet after the Olympics.

Until the World Cup is awarded in 2026 to Canada, as well as Mexico and the United States, and qualifying as the host country becomes a formality. But this team led by Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Stephen Eustaquio, Alistair Johnson, Kamal Miller and Samuel Piette didn’t want to wait another four years.

United as the selection of 1986, accumulates good results.

For the first time since 1997, Canada reached the CONCACAF final qualifying round.

For the first time since 2007, the Reds reached the Gold Cup semifinals. And we all started dreaming.

In September 2021, I was at BMO Field in Toronto for Canada’s 3-0 win over El Salvador (minus Alphonso Davies). There was no longer any doubt in my mind that this team, on a mission, was going to go all the way. I still shed a tear last March, when it was confirmed that after 36 years of waiting and misery, the Canadians would be back in the World Cup.

This Wednesday, the Red Devils just have to behave.

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