Friday 31 March 2017, 10:11

Canada, Forrest make their point

  • Former Canada goalkeeper Craig Forrest talks with about Canada's only point in a senior FIFA men's competition

  • Forrest was named player of the tournament when Canada won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000

  • **Forrest played his entire professional career in England


Canada’s national team was on the first plane back home from the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup in Korea/Japan, having failed to win a game or even score a single goal for their troubles. But when goalkeeper Craig Forrest talks about that tournament, there is an unmistakable echo of pride in his voice.

“We’re Canada, so we’re not really known for being great at football,” the former custodian, who plied his trade in England, most notably with Ipswich Town and West Ham United, told “Most of the time, we’re up against it. We won’t have much of the ball, so to earn a point, even just one point in competitive play was really more than just a point. It was a victory, if only a moral one. You can bet we were proud of it.”

It wasn’t just any old point either. The men with the maple leaves on their chest had to work for every inch of it, holding mighty Brazil to a 0-0 draw. “We didn’t have a lot of the ball on the day,” Forrest said with a chuckle, remembering the double-digit shot-count and his busy shift between the posts. “But we weren’t fazed by that. We were a blue-collar team with some good strong characters and we stood firm. Really, I think we were unfortunate that we didn’t steal a goal near the end and win it!”

That draw on 2 June 2001 in Kashima stands, to this day, as the only point earned by a Canadian men’s national team in a senior FIFA competition. Having lost their other two games in group play, they headed for home at the first hurdle. But just being there was a major accomplishment for a nation associated more with ice hockey than the world’s game. It was an honour earned the hard way.

Canada’s Golden 2000  “It was amazing for us to even get to the Confed Cup,” he said. “ No one would have predicted it. We were the 12th-ranked team out of 12 at the Gold Cup in 2000 and somehow, some way, we went on to win the title at the expense of powers like the USA and Mexico.”

Forrest’s delight at that moment is obvious, and infectious. The title run in the 2000 instalment of CONCACAF’s cup of nations, known as the Gold Cup, stands alongside Canada’s one and only appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ in 1986 as a shining moment in the sun. “Our Gold Cup group finished all tangled on two points and we had to flip a coin to see if it would be us or Korea Republic (one of three invited non-CONCACAF teams in the 2000 event) who went through to the quarter-finals. Luckily it was us, and we started to think, wow, maybe we can do this.”

Canada then beat eight-time champion Mexico in front of what Forrest calls a “a 100-per cent Mexican crowd” in San Diego, thanks to a golden goal which the Canadian keeper cannot help but laugh about. “It’s a good thing it was Golden Goal, so Mexico didn’t have a chance to respond. If they did, we might have been in trouble!”

Belief grew even stronger in the Canadian dressing room, where coach Holger Osieck maximised the optimism building in his side. “We shocked Mexico when no one gave us a chance, and we were kind of giggling to ourselves," Forrest said. "No one was giving us a shot at winning, but we were beginning to think 'OK, this might be our time'.”

A win in the semi-final against Trinidad and Tobago put the Canadians in the final against Colombia, the team who had knocked out favourites and hosts USA. The 2-0 win over Los Cafeteros, led by striking legend Faustino Asprilla, saw the Canadians seal their second CONCACAF title to date . Forrest, then 33, was voted best player of the tournament for his agility and athleticism. “All of a sudden, we’re lifting the trophy, we’re the top team in the region, and you’re so full of pride and patriotism. You’ve done something amazing.

“It was a special moment, winning that Gold Cup and getting to test ourselves against the world’s best at the Confederations Cup,” said Forrest, now a commentator for Canadian TV, with a wistfulness in his voice. “I’ll never forget our first game against hosts Japan at the Confed, when the home fans, 30,000 of them, gave us an ovation. Coming from CONCACAF, where you’re more likely to get a beer thrown on you at away games, that’s also something I’ll never forget.”