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Flashback: No Messi back in 2010 but Argentina firepower still too much for Canada


Canada and Argentina, who meet in Thursday's Copa America curtain-raiser in Atlanta, have history — albeit in the form of a lopsided 5-0 defeat in their only other meeting at the senior level.

The Canadian men travelled to Buenos Aires in May 2010 to take on the powerful South American side on the eve of its departure for the World Cup in South Africa.

Argentina was ranked seventh in the world at the time, 56 places above Canada, then coached by Stephen Hart.

"I remember people telling me that we were extremely brave," Hart recalled. "When (former manager) Dale (Mitchell) had the team, we played Brazil in Seattle (a 3-2 win for Brazil in May 2008) and they were saying it's a lot different than going down to Buenos Aires and playing Argentina in Argentina.

"Which, it turned out, was correct."

The Canadians avoided a 22-year-old Lionel Messi that day, left on the bench after picking up a knock in training. But there was no shortage of Argentine firepower from top clubs around the world, all looking to make their case for a start at the World Cup.

Canada Soccer, meanwhile, had issues getting players released for the trip and arrived with just 17 players.

"I had to beg (Houston Dynamo manager)Dominic Kinnearto release (goalkeeper) Pat Onstad for me because I didn't have a goalkeeper," said Hart.

Forward Dwayne De Rosario flew in the night before the match.

"I don't think we even understood what level we were going to be walking into," said Onstad, now GM of the Houston Dynamo.

"It was like we were playing a different sport than they were," he added. "There was a lot of good players on the other side of the pitch."

The game was the 59th and final Canadian appearance for Onstad, then 42.

The friendly drew 66,000 to Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti. Workers with leaf blowers took to the pitch before kickoff in a largely unsuccessful attempt to rid the field of a mountain of confetti.

The crowd was in a festive mood, celebrating the bicentenary anniversary of the Revolucion de Mayo, which marked Argentina moving on from Spanish rule.

"It was crazy," said Hart. "I remember it being extremely loud. So loud that we were sitting on the bench shouting at each other to try and get over the noise at times."

The star-studded Argentines got goals from Maxi Rodríguez (two), Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, some of the highlight-reel variety. And the score could have been higher, given the number of Argentine chances.

"The speed at which they were playing," Hart marvelled. "They were in ripping form. I remember talking to (then assistant coach) Tony Fonseca, saying 'Let's count how many of these players just finished playing in the Champions League.'"

A 22-year-old Di Maria opened his international account with a screamer of a shot in the 37th minute. Di Maria moved to Real Madrid from Portugal's Benfica the next month for a reported 25 million euros ($36.8 million).

"He never sent me a thank-you note," joked Onstad.

It was 3-0 at the half.

"And then they decided to bring on Aguero," Hart said with a chuckle. "Just adding to the pain."

Aguero's goal, seconds after entering the field, made it 5-0 in the 71st minute, twisting defender Richard Hastings like a top.

"It's raining goals in Buenos Aires," said the ESPN commentator. "And Argentina (is) heading to the World Cup finals in style."

The Argentines were then coached by the legendary Diego Maradona, who invited Hart into the Argentina dressing room after the game.

"He was very gracious, very hospitable … A living legend," said Hart.

The crowd sang "Diego, Diego" as the score line grew in the stadium where Argentina had defeated the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time to win the 1978 World Cup.

The Canadian lineup in front of Onstad that day was Mike Klukowski, Hastings, Nik Ledgerwood, captain Paul Stalteri, Andre Hainault, Will Johnson, Daniel Imhof, Josh Simpson, Rob Friend and De Rosario.

Substitutes Jaime Peters, Simeon Jackson, Adam Straith and Stephen Ademolu came on in the second half.

Argentina went on to win its group and reach the quarterfinals in South Africa before losing 4-0 to eventual third-place finisher Germany.

Canada's game in Venezuela five days later was challenging in a different way. Just getting there was difficult with the airport in Merida, located high in the Andes, still closed in the wake of a 2008 plane crash.

"We had to fly over in three different flights and then we had to take a three-hour bus ride," said Hart.

When the Canadians finally got to the stadium to train, there was another surprise when they turned the lights on.

"Literally millions of moths, the size of your hand or bigger, just rose up. It blanked out the stadium lights," Hart said

"They were like birds," midfielder Terry Dunfield recalled.

Canada emerged with a 1-1 tie with the 49th-ranked Venezuelans before 20,000 at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano de Merida, some 1,600 metres above sea level.

Dunfield was on the Venezuela half of the trip, arriving before the Argentina group. Now an assistant coach with Toronto FC, Dunfield recalled taking a series of flights to get to his destination and finding an anaconda coiled in the swimming pool by the bungalow where he was staying

"I was just so excited to represent Canada and play, that it didn't bother me at all," said Dunfield, who earned his first cap against Venezuela.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024