Sunday, July 08, 2007

A challenge for Canada: breaking down the U-20 possibilites

Canada has a tough road ahead of them at the U-20 World Cup. The opening 3-0 loss to Chile last Sunday, combined with Thursday's 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Austrians, has left the home squad sitting in last place in their group. If this was the full World Cup, they would already be eliminated. However, all is not lost yet, as this championship allows the top four (out of six) third-place teams to advance to the next round. If Canada is able to defeat Congo tonight, they have a good shot at grabbing one of these spots.

Here's how it breaks down. All teams are evaluated based on the number of points they have achieved from the games against the other three teams in their group. Three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. If teams are still tied, the first tiebreaker is goal differential (goals for minus goals against). If there is still a tie, the next tiebreaker is goals for, followed by fair play points (which includes the numbers of yellow and red cards handed out to each team), and finally the drawing of lots. The top two teams in each group automatically advance to the knockout phase of the tournament, while the third-place teams are compared across groups, with the top four out of six moving on.

All the matches in Groups B, D, E and F have been played, but so far, the only third place team that have locked up spots are Uruguay and Brazil. Uruguay's surprising 2-0 loss to Zambia in Victoria last night left them even with the African side with four points, but behind on goal differential, leaving them in third place in Group B. However, their four points are likely to be the best among third-place finishers. Groups D and F have their third place teams (Brazil and Costa Rica) both sitting on three points with a -1 goal differential. However, Brazil has four goals for, while Costa Rica only has two. Group E has North Korea already eliminated, as they are in third spot with only two points, which is worse than the current totals of four of the other third-place teams. Thus, Brazil is assured of finishing above both Costa Rica and North Korea, and will not have to worry about today's results.

The important match for Canada to watch will be today's Group C clash between Portugal and Gambia. This fixture, played in Montreal's Olympic Stadium (CBC, 5 PM ET), may provide the Canadians with their best chance to qualify. Portugal and Gambia currently both have three points, but Portugal has a +1 goal differential, while Gambia is -2. Canada, who take on Congo in Edmonton later tonight (CBC, 7:30 PM ET), are sitting on zero points in Group A with a -4 goal differential. If Portugal defeats Gambia by two goals and Canada wins by one, both teams would be at three points, but Canada would advance on goal differential (-3 to -4). This is the most likely scenario for Canadian advancement, and would leave them facing Group B winners Spain. There is yet another possibility to come out of Group C, depending on how New Zealand fares against Mexico, which I'll mention later.

However, there are other options for the Canadians if Portugal draw or lose. If Portugal-Gambia is a draw, both teams would seal a place in the next round with four points apiece. This would mean that Canada would have to defeat Congo, and then beat out Costa Rica in a tiebreak. If Canada win by three, they would be even with Costa Rica on goal differential, and the tiebreak would go to goals for. Costa Rica only have two (both coming against Scotland last night), so even a 3-0 Canadian victory would be enough to go through. This would leave Canada up against Group C winners Mexico in the next round, which would probably be a slightly easier task than defeating European qualifying champions Spain, but not by much.

The remaining possibilities are long shots, but still deserve to be mentioned. If Portugal somehow manage to lose to Gambia, they will also be left on three points. If they lose by two, they would wind up tied with Costa Rica on goal differential. However, they already have three goals for, so they would still advance over the Costa Ricans. If they lose 3-0, and the Canadians win by three, it would be Canada and Costa Rica advancing, with the Portuguese on the outside looking in. Portugal has looked very good in the games I've seen so far, and their star player Bruno Gama appears to be in fine form, so this scenario is unlikely to occur.

There is also the even less likely chain of events where the New Zealand squad manage to go through. They're currently on zero points with a -3 goal differential, so for this to happen, they would have to both beat heavily favoured Mexico and wind up ahead of or tied with the loser of Portugal-Gambia on goal difference. If they tie, they would have to have more goals for, which is also difficult: they haven't notched a goal so far, while Gambia have one and Portugal have three. Yet, in a tournament where Poland defeated Brazil with ten men, but still fell 6-1 to the United States, anything is clearly possible.


- It has been excellent to see the amount of interest this tournament has generated. The fans have turned out in great numbers across the country, and the quality of the games has not disappointed, in my view. The dramatic upsets, such as the aforementioned Polish games against Brazil and the U.S., as well as Zambia's shocking victory over a strong Uruguayan side, have made the tournament even more exciting.

- There has been plenty of good media coverage as well. Sportsnet deserves recognition for their tournament home page, which made most of the research for this post possible. Their site also features some excellent analysis by my favorite soccer columnist, Ben Knight, and Gerry Dobson, the regular host of their English Premier League coverage. I am also indebted to Fox Soccer's Bobby McMahon, whose blog has offered some terrific coverage of the tournament, and who did a great job of breaking down the possible scenarios for advancement. He also linked me to this FIFA document (page 28),which details the exact tie-breaking process and who plays who. CBC's tournament page also has good coverage, and features columns by such soccer notables as Craig Forrest, Dick Howard, Nigel Reed, and Mitch Peacock, who will be familiar to those who follow CBC's World Cup, national team, and Toronto FC coverage.

- With this competition rapidly approaching the knockout stage, I'm going to attempt to do a daily post on the tournament until it has run its course. Stay tuned!

- Apparently, today is CBC's Soccer Day in Canada. Similar to the annual Hockey Day in Canada, they've been focusing on teams and youth players across the country. Great idea, but I wish they would have promoted it a bit more prominently: I've been watching their U-20 World Cup coverage almost every day, and am a frequent visitor to the sports section of their website, but hadn't heard anything about it until I flipped on the TV earlier. However, they've had some really cool stuff, including an interview with Cory Bowles ("Cory" of Trailer Park Boys fame) who apparently will be starring in a show called "Y Soccer" on CBC Radio. The show is set to take place from 11:30 AM - 12:00 PM each day from July 16-20. Definitely looking forward to it!

- Congrats to the Prince Edward Island women, who recently took home the silver medal in soccer (they used the proper name of football!) in the Island Games 2007, held on the island of Rhodes last week.

- Finally, also on the subject of international soccer, Queen's own former star striker Eilish McConville, a nominee for the BLG Award as Canada's top female university athlete this past year, will be representing Canada in the World University Games this summer.The games will be held in Bangkok from August 8-18. Watch this page and the Queen's Journal website for updates on how the Canadian team does.

No comments:

Post a Comment