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Canada - Costa Rica Preview

Sitting in Port Columbus Airport, with free wifi, and my flight doesn't leave for almost two hours. What else am I going to do?

The miniscule fraction of a doubt that Canada wouldn't go through to the quarterfinals was eliminated late yesterday, when in spite of typical CONCACAF refereeing and Javier Aguirre's karate-kick action, Panama held on to a 1-1 draw with Mexico and ensured Canada no worse than eighth position in the round robin. And to even finish that badly, Haiti will have to beat the United States in Boston tomorrow, among other improbable results.

My friends, we are sitting pretty.

Of course, we can't take our foot off the gas. A win over Costa Rica is worth in the ballpark of one trillion points in the FIFA rankings and, if we win by a couple, could well send the Ticos to their grave. Costa Rica, meanwhile, has everything to play for, and a Costa Rican win combined with El Salvador not beating Jamaica sends them through.

Don't be fooled by Costa Rica's record and the fact that they're in the hex. The Ticos are taking the Gold Cup seriously and have sent what I've called a B+ team - pretty close to what Canada has sent, actually. Florida International University Stadium holds 20,000 people and I expect 19,998 of them to be Costa Rica partisans. We have no players used to playing on plastic, while in Costa Rica league matches artificial turf is common. The weather forecast is straight out of San José. I'm sure glad we don't need this match or I'd be worried.

So yeah, I'm predicting a Canadian loss. But why worry? I'm just too relieved that we don't really need the match.

Indeed, if I were Stephen Hart, I'd take the opportunity to play it safe. Three Canadian players - Julian De Guzman, Mike Klukowski, and Paul Stalteri - are riding a yellow card and there's no reason to risk a suspension for any of them. Give De Guzman a half, because he's usually fairly disciplined, but Klukowski and Stalteri should sit unless needed.

I'd like to see Jaime Peters get a go at fullback, as Peters spent the successful latter half of his Ipswich season playing the position and seems to have taken to it. The other side could be taken by Marcel De Jong or, if Hart was feeling adventurous, Andre Hainault.

Why stop there, either? The 4-5-1 cum 4-3-3 that Hart has been running has been somewhat marred by a lack of offensive spirit from his wingers, so why not throw Simeon Jackson in the spot Josh Simpson started at against El Salvador and see what happens? And if ever there was a moment for Josh Wagenaar, just to see what he can do against talented opposition, this is it.

Don't get me wrong. I want us to win the match. But for the first time we're playing a competitive match that we can truly afford to lose.

Of course, if Hart storms out with the big guns and we win 2-1, well, I can live with that.