Last Saturday, soccer fans around the world had their eyes on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Preliminary Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 166 countries were drawn into various qualifying groups and match-ups in their respective confederations - all with the hope of reaching soccer's showpiece event in less than three years' time.
The results of the draw revealed some intriguing scenarios that look set to involve members of Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Whether its CONCACAF, Africa, or Oceania, the Blue and White's influence on the many journeys that nations will embark on towards Brazil 2014 could make for some fascinating storylines.
We begin close to home and the CONCACAF second-round draw that sees Canada face three Caribbean island nations in St. Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico, and St. Lucia this fall. It provides the potential of Whitecaps FC striker Atiba Harris facing the country he currently resides in, should the St. Kitts and Nevis international regain his fitness after undergoing knee surgery in late April. "It's exciting, as I obviously play my club soccer here in Canada," Harris told whitecapsfc.com. "Your always in with a chance in soccer, so hopefully, we can get the results and make our small nation proud. Hopefully, I'm fit and ready to play when the Canada games come around."
While Harris continues his banter with his Canadian teammates at Whitecaps FC, two other members of Tom Soehn's squad are facing the possibility of a qualification showdown in the African zone. Should they defeat Chad in a two-leg, aggregate goal series, Nizar Khalfan and Tanzania would advance to a group that includes star-studded Côte d'Ivoire, North African powerhouse Morocco, and Mustapha Jarju's Gambia. Khalfan is excited by the potential of facing his 'Caps teammate in qualifying. "I'm looking forward to the chance of facing Mustapha and Gambia, if it happens," said the versatile East African. "I'm also excited to have another chance to try and qualify for a World Cup. We will have to make sure that we beat Chad and reach the next stage, where we would face some big teams."
For summer signing Jarju, the chance to play against a club teammate as a Gambian international would be a first in his career. "It would be exciting to play against Nizar and Tanzania home and away, if that was to happen," he said. "It's a very tough group that we are in, but anything is possible in soccer. You always want a chance to qualify for a World Cup, and hopefully, I'll be there one day."
Some qualifying scenarios are more immediate, while others have long roads to be taken before they can become reality. For 'Caps centre back Michael Boxall and his native New Zealand, the immediate priority for the 'All Whites' is to assure qualification out the Oceania region. However, with Oceania winner drawn into an intercontinental playoff with the fourth-place finisher from CONCACAF, Boxall and New Zealand could face Canada for a spot in Brazil. The University of California, Santa Barbara, product would enjoy nothing more than to play the Canadians in Vancouver. "I'm glad Oceania managed to avoid a South American playoff, and I'm excited that New Zealand might possibly face Canada for a spot in the World Cup," said the defender. "I'd love for one of the playoff legs to be in Vancouver, so it makes for an exciting prospect."
Predicting how World Cup qualifying will unfold is an almost impossible task. Yet, to know that Whitecaps FC players will be part of this remarkable journey is the type of storyline that draws so many to 'The Beautiful Game'. We wait to see what the next three years will bring…