From 1986 to 2021, the reputation of the Canadian men’s national team was that of a team that wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, struggling to make an impact on the international stage and failing to qualify for eight consecutive World Cups.
But that doesn’t mean it was all doom and gloom, and twenty-two years ago Canada overcame the odds to be champions of CONCACAF. This is the story of how CANADA won the GOLD Cup, with a little help from a coin.
The 2000 edition of the GOLD Cup was played in the southern United States in California and Florida. Back then the format of the competition involved twelve teams, nine from CONCACAF and three invited countries which included Colombia, Peru, and South Korea.
This was Canada’s forth GOLD Cup appearance since the tournament replaced the CONCACAF Championship in 1991 and although they won the CONCACAF Championship in 1985, they has failed to get out of the group stage in three attempts winning just two of a possible eight games. For 2000, Canada were drawn in a tough group alongside Costa Rica and South Korea and with a FIFA ranking of eighty-fifth in the world, Les Rouges went into the GOLD Cup as the lowest ranking side in the tournament.
Costa Rica and South Korea were both in the 2002 FIFA World Cup with the Koreans even making it as far as the Semi Final! The Canadian team that was tasked with getting out of the group stage featured unfashionable players, none of which were a household name at the time with West Ham United goalkeeper Craig Forrest and Werder Bremen utility man Paul Stalteri being the most high profile players in the side. The man in charge was German head coach Holger Osieck and this was the fifty-two year olds first time being in charge of an international side.
In their opening group game against Costa Rica, a brace from forward Carlo Corazzin earned the Canadians a draw at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. Next up was the game against South Korea where a win would guarantee a place in the next round. However the two would play out a 0-0 draw at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, leaving qualification to the next round in a knife edge.
Canada sat back and watched as South Korea and Costa Rica met in the final game of the group. If either side won or scored less than two goals in a draw, Canada would advance, but if the two played out a score draw of more than three goals, Canada would be eliminated. The most complicated result would be a 2-2 draw which is exactly what after Hernán Medford‘s late equaliser for the Costa Ricans!
Having played all their games, Canada and South Korea were tied perfectly on points, goals scored and goals conceded meaning there was no possible tie breakers left. It was decided that Canada’s fate would come down to a literal coin flip between the two managers. It was the first time a coin toss was used as a tie breaker in international soccer since the 1968 European Championship and Canada’s was in the hands of South Korea head coach Huh Jung-moo. Jung-moo chose heads and the rest is history. Upon seeing the result, Holger Osieck raided his arm and gave a thumbs up, it was tails, Canada were in the quarter finals for the first time.
Canada’s reward for qualifying was a last eight showdown with tournament favourite Mexico, the three time consecutive GOLD Cup winners and tenth best ranked team in the world. It looked like was going to go as everyone expected. Midfielder Ramón Ramírez gave El Tri the lead on the thirty-fifth minute but despite this, Canada maintained a compact shape and remained disciplined.
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It looked like Mexico would end Canada’s tournament as the game reached the eighty-third minute, but then Canadian midfielder Martin Nash whipped in a cross from the right wing into the path of Carlo Corazzin, and he rose nighest in the air to head the ball home and send the game to extra time!
The game was played during a time where FIFA used a sudden death “Golden goal” system in extra time, meaning that if Canada could score first, they would win, and their moment came just minutes into extra time. Canada cleared a Mexico corner and counter attacked quickly and before long, Nash found himself running towards goal with plenty of Canadian teammates by his side, he picked out Richard Hastings , and the Inverness Caledonian Thistle fullback made no mistake slotting his shot high into the Mexican net cementing a historic 2-1 upset win for Canada!
Belief was growing in the camp, the semi final would see the Les Rouges take on Trinidad & Tobago and although they didn’t have the same name recognition as Mexico, they still possessed a talented squad with Hibernian’s Russell Latapy and Manchester United’s Dwight Yorke being the biggest names in the squad.
The Caribbean side had the better of chances with keeper Craig Forrest being forced into numerous saves to keep the game at 0-0, including Forrest saving a penalty from David Nakhid which would be Trinidad’s clearest opportunity of the match. Canada held on and on the sixty-eighth minute, Jim Brennan’s cross into the box was met by Corazzin, and his header was met by defender Mark Watson who headed the ball past Ross Russell in the Trinidad goal to give the Canadians the lead! The Canadians held on and for the first time in history, reached the GOLD Cup final!
The date was February 27th 2000 and in front of a limited crowd of 6,197 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Canada walked out for their first ever GOLD Cup final against Colombia. As Colombia were an invited team from South America, Canada went into the game already having earned the title of best in CONCACAF, but they were hungry for the trophy! Just before halftime, Paul Fenwick won Canada a corner. From a Nash delivery, Dundee United defender centre back Jason de Vos attacked the ball at the back post and his headed effort crept just over the line to give Canada the lead going into halftime, they were now just forty-five minutes from history!
In the second half, canada had a golden chance to double the lead when Colombian keeper Diego Gómez brought down Jeff Clarke in the box forcing referee Peter Prendergast to point to the spot! From twelve yards out, top scorer Carlo Corazzin struck the ball straight down the middle to give Canada a 2-0 lead with sixty-eight minutes on the clock. With time winding down, Clarke, the player who had won Canada a penalty then gave one away on the eighth-third minute, potentially handing the South American’s a way back into the game. Víctor Bonilla stepped up for Colombia but his tame effort was easily saved by Forrest, ensuring the 2-0 lead and putting the finishing touch on an outstanding tournament for the thirty-two year old keeper. Not long afterwards the referee blew for full time, Canada were CONCACAF Gold Cup champions
The 2000 GOLD Cup still remains the only time neither the United States or Mexico have won the tournament, instead it belonged to Canada and this was summed up in the tournament honours. Richard Hastings won young player of the tournament, Carlo Corazzin won the top scorer award, and Craig Forrest was awarded as the player of the tour tournament!
Unfortunately Canada wouldn’t build on the win in the years to come, failing to qualify for a World Cup during the duration of this generations time playing in the national side. The achievement still remains to this day though as one of Canada’s greatest soccer achievements alongside the 1986 and 2022 World Cup qualification campaigns. In 2014 the 2000 Canada side were inducted into the Canada Soccer hall of fame as a Team of Distinction. An honour in no small part thanks to a coin, was well and truly deserved!
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