Thirty-six years later, Bob Lenarduzzi still laments the scoring chance he missed at the World Cup.
In 1986, the bookmakers laid long odds on Canada getting a goal in Mexico. And they were proved right as the Canadian men lost 1-0 to France and 2-0 to Hungary in their first two outings at the tournament.
Lenarduzzi came close in Canada’s final Group C game at Estadio Sergio Leon Chavez in Irapuato, on a corner against the Soviet Union, only to have the ball squib off his foot in the penalty box. Canada was blanked again, losing 2-0 in its tournament finale.
“An unbelievable chance,” said Lenarduzzi, a defender by trade.
“It was a terrible effort,” he added with a laugh.
“To this day I will have people, older people that is, say ‘You cost me a few bucks. If you had scored there, I would have done all right.’ Whoever scores that first goal for Canada — and someone’s going to do it in Qatar — they don’t know it, but they should thank me for them having that honour. Because I should have scored.”
There were other chances back in the day.
Against France, an Ian Bridge header was off-target from a Mike Sweeney free kick. And an Igor Vrablic shot was cleared away by a defender after French goalie Joel Bats was caught off his goal line.
But Canada is still waiting for its first score at the men’s soccer showcase.
“It wasn’t a big thing for the team,” said forward Dale Mitchell, who was on the ‘86 World Cup squad. “I know the oddsmakers had said we wouldn’t score a goal and I guess they ended up getting it right.
“But I think we were just out there playing the games and not really thinking like ‘If we score one goal and lose all three games, this is going to be some sort of success.’ You’re trying to compete as best you can and do your best to get a result.
“I think in all three games it wasn’t like we didn’t get anywhere near the opposition goal. It’s just that scoring at that level is definitely a challenge. We weren’t able to do it that time but it’s not like there wasn’t some opportunities there.”
Canada has weapons at its disposal going into Qatar. Cyle Larin has 25 goals for Canada while Jonathan David has 22, Lucas Cavallini 17, Junior Hoilett 14 and Alphonso Davies 12.
“It’s been great to see … There’s a lot of firepower in the team,” Mitchell, who scored 19 international goals, said of the Canadian attack. “There’s a lot of pace in the team. Probably more than we would have had in ‘86 in that regard. And maybe as much as we’ve ever had. It’ll be fun to watch, for sure.”
Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who has seven Canada goals to his credit, says scoring in Qatar is just a step to a greater goal.
“Of course that will be very special to the country when we get our first goal,” he said. “You’re going to be remembered forever really. But I don’t think that’s really the focus. The focus is getting the first win. That’s what we’re looking forward to.
“For us it really doesn’t matter who scores as long as somebody does it and we’re able to win the game. I think people are more looking forward to the first win rather than just the first goal.”
Canada had talent up front in 1986. Mitchell, Vrablic and George Pakos accounted for nine of Canada’s 11 goals in qualifying.
Mitchell was 28 when the tournament began while Vrablic was 20.
“I think Dale, like (captain) Bruce (Wilson), in this time that we’re in (now) would be a very good player in MLS and potentially abroad as well,” said Lenarduzzi. “And Igor was a brash young guy. He wasn’t really overwhelmed by the moment. He was quite confident, potentially bordered on arrogant but that’s I think what made him a good player.”
Mitchell’s preparation for the World Cup was derailed when he injured his anterior cruciate ligament injury in advance of the final round of qualifying. He was hurt playing for Canada against touring English side Everton in 1985 at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium.
“In 1983, ‘84, ‘85, I was pretty much playing all the time,” said Mitchell, who went on to coach the national team from 2007 to ‘09. “And then I was coming back from this injury. I was ready to play in ‘86 but I didn’t actually get a start until the third game against Russia.”
“I played one game out of three, I wish that I would have played three,” he added.
Canada’s Group F opponents in Qatar are no strangers to scoring at the World Cup, especially No. 2 Belgium and No. 12 Croatia.
Croatia outscored its opposition 14-9 at the 2018 World Cup, losing 4-2 to France in the final. Belgium finished third in Russia, with a 16-6 edge in goals. Morocco, currently ranked 22nd in the world, did not make it out of the opening round, and was outscored 4-2 in three matches.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press