Dale Mitchell begins his tenure as Canadian national men’s team head coach with a friendly game in Iceland on Wednesday.
The former Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach formally took charge of the senior national team at the beginning of August after leading Canada’s Under-20 side through a disappointing U-20 World Cup campaign last month.
The former Canadian international takes over a squad that is looking to build on an encouraging CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign back in June. Under the guidance of Mitchell’s assistant, Stephen Hart, Canada reached the semifinals of the competition playing some attractive and attack-minded soccer in the US. However, their quest to reach the Gold Cup final was cruelly denied in a controversial 2-1 semifinal defeat to hosts USA in Chicago, as Atiba Hutchinson’s late equalizer was wrongly disallowed for offside.
The trip to Reykjavik will be the Canadian team’s first gathering since that tournament, with Mitchell’s 17-man squad comprising of players that are all based with European clubs. Ten members of the picked squad appeared at the Gold Cup, while former U-20 internationals Asmir Begovic and Nik Ledgerwood each received call-ups to the senior side for Wednesday’s friendly at the Laugardalsvöllur Stadium. This will be Canada’s first-ever international meeting with Iceland, who are currently ranked 109th in the latest FIFA World Rankings.
Led by former Icelandic international defender Eyjólfur Sverrisson, the Nordic island nation will be using the Canada friendly as tune-up before next month’s important EURO 2008 qualifiers at home to Spain and Northern Ireland. Their quest to reach the European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland next summer seem remote, as Iceland sit sixth in the seven-nation qualifying Group F. Sverrisson’s side will need to make the most of their final five group games to turn their fortunes around.
Despite their woes with EURO 2008 qualification, Iceland boast several familiar names to English and European soccer enthusiasts. Striker and captain Eidur Gudjohnsen is likely the most famous of Iceland’s soccer exports, having enjoyed spells with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven and English Premier League sides Bolton Wanderers and Chelsea. He is currently part of a potent strike-force at Spanish giants Barcelona. Fellow striker Heidar Helguson plays in the EPL for Bolton, while midfielder Brynjar Gunnarsson and defender Ivar Ingimarsson play for fellow EPL club Reading. Centre back Hermann Hreidarsson also plays in England with Portsmouth.
Wednesday’s game is sure to provide Canada with a stern test, as they begin their build-up towards next year’s qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Mitchell’s side will follow their trip to Iceland with another friendly game against CONCACAF rivals Costa Rica at Toronto’s BMO Field on September 12.