Canada’s Footballing History With Asia

Canada’s Footballing History With Asia

Overall record: 11-3-15 (Australia before AFC included) Biggest win: 5-2 China (1992) Biggest defeat: 6-1 Iraq (1985)

Asia Is Coming

With the World Cup kicking off for us in just three months, countries are getting to prepare their squads for the challenges that await them in Qatar. Canada has all eyes on them after the last international window for them ended up in an absolute train wreck, with matches falling through with Panama, and more importantly, World Cup team Iran. There were a lot of worries from the fans about how Canada would respond to those events, and if they could attract some big teams to test the young Canadian squad.


With two friendlies being announced for Canada before the World Cup in November, fans got their answer. Canada is set to play World Cup hosts, Qatar, and South American giants, Uruguay. These two fixtures are great tests for Canada leading into the tournament this winter. Qatar is a side with much unknown but has been making noise in Asia over the last couple of years, and Uruguay can be a team that comes out of the World Cup with a deep run for a third championship win.

Qatar’s players lift the trophy after winning the AFC Asian Cup final match between Japan and Qatar in Zayed Sport City in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Canada hasn’t played a team outside of Concacaf since 2018, when John Herdman made his debut as the manager for the country in a 1-0 win over New Zealand. Since then, Herdman has kept Canada in their own region, focusing on growing the kids and creating a whole new winning culture among the men’s squad. With Canada set to play Qatar in Austria on September 23rd, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how Canada has matched up against teams from Asia over the years.

Merlion Cup (1986)

In 1924, Canada did a tour of Australia, playing six matches over the span of almost two months. Though at the time, Australia wasn’t yet part of the Asian Confederation (that wouldn’t happen till 2006), Canada went on to finish the tour with a 2-1-3 record.

Canada wouldn’t meet their first team from Asia until 1985, when they played Iraq in the President’s Cup. Even with the tournament being an Asian-based tournament, Canada would only play one Asian team, if you don’t count the South Korean B team. Funny enough, the finals were South Korea vs South Korea B. Canada came out of the first group stage second in their table, and was subsequently put into a group with Iraq. Iraq obliterated Canada, beating them 6-1, but Canada wouldn’t have to wait long before another tour of Asia.


After failing to score a single goal at the 1986 World Cup, Canada was invited to Singapore to partake in the Merlion Cup. This would be Canada’s first real experience playing in and against Asian teams. In this tournament, Canada would also have to play two all-star teams coming from Malaysia and Indonesia, like South Korea B in the President’s Cup they won’t be included in the summary, but to note, Canada went on to win both matches.

FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 14 September 1985 – St. John’s, NL, CAN Canada Soccer Archives

Canada opened their tournament with a match against host country Singapore. Canada was able to get an early lead and hold onto it thanks to a penalty from Igor Vrablic in the fifth minute, and they would hope to carry their momentum into their next match against North Korea, but were held to a 0-0 draw.


The Reds would finish off the group stage with a 1-0 loss to China. Having lost just one game, Canada finished third in their group, putting them into the next round for a rematch against North Korea. After a 0-0 draw in their last match, Canada was yet again be held off the score sheet and fall to North Korea 2-0. China would go on to beat North Korea for the championship, but the tournament wasn’t finished for Canada. Canada would now get to play for third place against host nation Singapore, which they would accomplish. With a 1-0 win, thanks to a late goal in the 73rd minute thanks to Alex Bunbury, Canada would come home with their name going down in the books.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that Canada would come home with. It came to light after the tournament that five Canadian players were involved in match-fixing at the tournament, leaving a dark cloud over Canadian soccer.

It’s the ’90s

The ’90s for Canada wasn’t exactly a fun time, with years like 1991 and 1997 where Canada would only pick up one win in each year, or in 1994 when Canada went the full year without a win. To be fair, in 1994, Canada brought teams like Brazil and Spain to come over and play, but nonetheless, the ’90s were rough.


Even though it was a rough time, Canada did have some success when playing Asian countries. In 1992, China came over to Victoria, where Canada put on a show, beating China 5-2, and then two months later in Toronto, Canada would pick up another win, this time 3-1 over Hong Kong. The following year Canada held back-to-back matches against South Korea in Victoria and Vancouver. South Korea would take the first game 2-0, but Canada bounced back and pull off a 2-0 win with goals from John Catliff and Domenic Mobilio.

Canadian players salute the fans in Edmonton after defeating Australia 2-1 in the first leg of their playoff in July 1993. (Canada Soccer / Flickr)

Even though the ’90s weren’t the best time for Canada, they did almost qualify for the 1994 World Cup. After finishing second in their group with Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador, Canada qualified for a two-leg play-off, where they played not-yet-Asian Confederation side Australia. Domenic Mobilio scored again for his country in the 57th minute, lifting The Reds to a 2-1 victory in Edmonton.


Afterwards, Canada travelled to Sydney with the hopes to qualify for their second World Cup in front of 26,000 Socceroos. Like the first game, this game ended 2-1, and again, like the first time the home team won, which meant with a 3-3 aggregate, Canada and Australia would be going to penalties. With only one goal scored for Canada in the penalties, Australia would go on to win 4-1 and qualify for the 1994 World Cup, leaving Canada with just one World Cup appearance for another twenty-eight years.

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Canada would take on Iran twice in the next couple of years, once in a friendly in Toronto where Canada fell 1-0, and in 1999 Canada would invite Iran over to partake in the Canada Cup, or Maple Cup for short. Canada won their first match of the tournament with a 2-0 scoreline over Guatemala, bringing Canada top of the table going into their second match against Iran. With a 71st-minute goal from Iran, they went on and take the three points with a 1-0 win. Canada finished third in the table and Iran finished second, with Ecuador taking home the trophy. Canada would close off the ’90s with a 2-0 loss against Saudi Arabia in California.

Millennium Cup Runs

Fans will usually recall Canada winning the 1985 CONCACAF Championship to qualify for the World Cup, but often leave out their success in 2000. Canada went on to win the tournament, but unfortunately, it didn’t create a straight path to the following World Cup. Before Canada would go on and lift the Gold Cup, they would have to go through the future World Cup host South Korea.


Even though the Gold Cup is a CONCACAF-based tournament, South Korea did get the special invite to partake in the tournament along with Peru and Columbia, who Canada would eventually go on to beat in the finals. Canada and South Korea did end in a 0-0 draw, which meant on the table, Canada and South Korea finished with identical stats. With only three teams in the group only and two teams advancing, it meant only one of them can move on after Costa Rica topped the group with two draws, but had scored four goals. So how do they decide who would move on? Instead of forcing penalties or maybe a fair play rule, they decided to decide the contest on a coin toss, where Canada was fortunate enough to win the toss, and move on to the next round.

Winning the 2000 Gold cup meant Canada would go on to partake in the 2001 FIFA Confederation Cup. This is where all the winning nations around the world got together and play for another trophy. Leading up to this tournament, Canada organized a friendly against Iran to prepare their squad for the ultimate challenge. Canada was able to put just one goal into the Iranian’s net, and that was enough to take the 1-0 victory.


Now that the friendlies are out of the way, Canada was set to take on some of the strongest teams from around the world. Having games coming up against the likes of Japan, Brazil, and Cameroon, Canada had no easy match ahead of them. Japan was the first match for Canada to kick it off, and that went far from okay. Losing 3-0 with all three goals coming in the second half, Canada had no answer for Japan. For the second time in Canada’s history, they were left off the scoresheet in a major international tournament. On the bright side, however, Canada did pick up a memorable 0-0 draw with Brazil.

Japan 3 Canada 0 in 2001 in Niigata. Jason Bent tackles Hiroaki Morishima in Group B at the Confederations Cup.

Unlike the European championship, the Gold Cup is held every two years appose to four. Coming in as the defending champs, Canada was looking to pull the repeat, and they came close. The Reds made their way out of the group stage and into the Semi-Finals, where they would be knocked out 4-2 on penalties by the United States. The finals were in Canada’s line of sight, so falling out in the Semi-Finals third place still looked appetizing. South Korea must have made an impact in the 2000 Gold Cup because they were once again invited back, and after being knocked out in the Semi-Finals by Costa Rica, they had a date with Canada in the third place match.


In the fifteenth minute, South Korea took off with an early lead. Canada looked pushed back and looked to find an equalizer quickly. The Tigers did find the net for the second time in the thirty-fourth minute, but it wasn’t Canada’s net they found. South Korea put the goal into their net, bringing the game to 1-1. Canada continued to put the pressure on, and just a minute later, Canada found the lead thanks to Dwayne De Rosario. Going into the second half Canada had a 2-1 lead, and that’s how the match finished, bringing third place glory to the boys in red.


After Canada’s third-place win over South Korea in 2002, they went eleven years before facing another team from Asia. Bringing us to 2013, we saw Canada have a rough year failing to win a single match. Going to Qatar in March for some friendlies, Canada hoped to pick up some wins. Though in Qatar, Canada played Japan and the European side Belarus. You know Canada didn’t win either game, but unfortunately, lost them both as well.

Canada’s Marcus Haber would manage to score a goal against Japan in the 58th minute to tie the game, but they were unable to hold the tie and fell 2-1 to Japan. A couple of months later, Canada would pack their bags again to play in England, again, not to play against England, but they would play Australia for the first time since Australia joined the AFC. The trend of 2013 for Canada continued into this match, losing once again. Australia came out flying scoring in the first minute of the play. Australia kept the pressure and found the back of the net two more times to close off the match 3-0.

Josh Kennedy put away a neatly-timed header to send Australia on the way to victory against Canada in London. (Getty Images: Bryn Lennon)

Canada would have two more friendlies with teams from Asia in 2016. Picking up a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan with goals from David Edgar and an own goal from Akramjon Komilov in the 81st minute to secure the win, and a 2-0 loss against South Korea.


Canada has had an interesting past with Asian teams, either getting blown out, or Canada beating them to bring in silverware, Asia has made an impact in Canada’s soccer history. Now with Canada at their all-time peak in its history, Asia is a continent where Canada wants to be able to go in and get the results needed. With a very exciting future ahead of Canada, we will potentially see Canada play a lot more of these teams from Asia and that all starts on September 23rd when Canada will take on World Cup host Qatar to prepare for the 2022 World Cup.

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One thought on “Canada’s Footballing History With Asia

  1. Read the article and it was interesting, Australia did not qualify for the 1994 world cup though (unfortunately) there was a second round where Argentina prevailed 1–2 agg

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