Lenarduzzi came close in ‘86. Who will end Canada’s World Cup drought in Qatar?

36 years later, Bob Renarducci still laments his missed World Cup scoring opportunity.

In 1986, the bookmakers were very likely to score a goal for Canada in Mexico. They were proven right as the Canadian men lost 1-0 to France and 2-0 to Hungary in the first two games of the competition.

Lenarduzzi came close in Canada’s final Group C match at Estadio Sergio Leon Chavez in Irapuato, on a corner against the Soviet Union, only to have the ball burst in the box. Canada was again in the blank, losing 2-0 in the final.

“An incredible opportunity,” said trade guard Leonardo Ducci.

“It’s a horrible endeavor,” he added with a laugh.

“To this day, I still have people, older people, who say ‘you cost me a few bucks. If you score there, I’ll do well. Whoever scored the first goal for Canada The ball – and someone is going to score it in Qatar – they don’t know, but they should thank me for giving them this honor. Because I deserve to score.”

There are other opportunities that day.

Mike Sweeney’s free-kick sent Ian Bridges header wide of the net against France. A defender cleared Igor Vlablic’s shot after French goalkeeper Joel Butters was kicked off the line.

But Canada is still waiting for the first goal of the men’s football game.

“It’s not a big deal for the team,” said forward Dale Mitchell, who was in the ’86 World Cup squad. “I know the oddsmakers said we’re not going to score and I guess they got it right in the end.

“But I think we just played on the field and didn’t really think ‘if we scored one goal and lost all three, it would be some kind of success. You’re trying to compete as much as possible and try your best to get results .

“I think in all three games we didn’t get close to the opponent’s goal. Just scoring at that level was definitely a challenge. We didn’t get it at that time, but it wasn’t without a chance.”

Canada has weapons to enter Qatar. Cyle Larin scored 25 for Canada, Jonathan David 22, Lucas Cavallini 17, Junior Hoilet 14 and Alphonso Davies 12.

“It’s good to see … there’s a lot of firepower in the team,” Mitchell, who scored 19 international goals, said of Canada’s offense. “There’s a lot of rhythm in the team. In that regard, maybe more than we had in ’86. Maybe as much as we ever had. Of course, it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who scored seven goals in Canada, said scoring in Qatar was just a step towards a bigger goal.

“Certainly, when we achieve the first goal, it’s very special for this country,” he said. “You’re really going to be remembered forever. But I don’t think that’s really the point. The point is getting the first win. That’s what we’re looking for.

“For us, as long as someone scores and we can win the game, it doesn’t matter who scores. I think people are looking forward to the first win more than just the first goal.”

Canada was gifted in 1986. Mitchell, Vlablic and George Pacos accounted for nine of Canada’s 11 qualifying goals.

Mitchell was 28 and Vlablić was 20 when the game started.

“I think Dale, like (captain) Bruce (Wilson), is going to be a very good player in MLB in the era we’re in (now) and maybe a foreign player as well. Great player,” Leonardozi said. “And Igor is an arrogant young man. He’s not really overwhelmed by the moment. He’s very confident, maybe a little arrogant, but I think that’s what makes him a good player.”

Mitchell tore his ACL before the final qualifying round, derailing his preparations for the World Cup. In 1985, he was injured while representing Canada against England’s Everton on tour at the University of Toronto Stadium.

“In 1983, ’84, ’85, I played almost all the time,” said Mitchell, who went on to coach the national team from 2007 to ’09. “Then I recovered from this injury. I was ready to play in ’86, but I didn’t really start playing until the third game against Russia.”

“I played one of three games and I wish I could play three,” he added.

Canada’s Group F rivals Qatar are no strangers to World Cup goals, especially second-placed Belgium and 12th-placed Croatia.

Croatia beat their opponents 14-9 at the 2018 World Cup and lost 4-2 to France in the final. Belgium are third in Russia in goals scored 16-6. Morocco, currently ranked 22nd in the world, failed to advance in the first round and was defeated 4-2 in three matches.

Neil Davidson, Canadian Press

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