|The drama of the day began not on Saturday itself but on Friday when I was sitting in the car about 80 miles south of the Canadian border in the torrential rain, as we crawled at 15 mph up the I-5 Freeway.|
The phone rang and a 613 phone code indicated that the call was coming from Toronto. I struggled to hear over the downpour the news that they had changed the venue and time of the match. Indeed it was Richard Scott, the Media Director of the Canadian Soccer Association, panicking to inform all the media outlets that the game had been moved.
As it was 8.30 pm by then on the East Coast, I can only assume he'd been forced to work late on a Friday and was not delighted that the CSA's big day was beginning to unravel.
So Scotland's first look at Swangaard Stadium, where they are due to play Costa Rica on July 7th was to be washed out and the game moved to Percy Perry Park (PPP) in Coquitlam, home to the Coquitlam Cheetahs whatever they are. The game was also now 3 hours later to allow a little more time for the utter chaos that ensued.
The day of the game began with a trip to the Vancouver Firefighters Club at 8am to watch Alec McLeish's glorious start to his Scotland career where 100+ Scottish Ex-pats cheered Scotland to a vital and hard fought win which kept the unreal dream alive.
Then onto PPP itself pausing only for a brief pitstop at our hotel during which my car was broken into, its window smashed and its contents emptied. Plastic bag on window and suitably irritated, we set off in the continuing downpour to PPP, passing Swangaard (the original location) - next to which we'd chosen our hotel.
Presenting our credentials, we joined the Sunday Mail, the Sun and an excited local media in the Press Box and surveyed a ground that reminded me of a mini Meadowbank Stadium.
The reason the game went ahead here was the presence of an all weather surface known as Turf Field, though in the end, the water seemed to lie on it where a bit more drainage might have helped.
The talk of the press box was the presence of David Edgar, famous all over the world for scoring a 25 yard equaliser on his Newcastle debut against Man United.
The talk of the Scottish wing was how at risk the Scotland players were from injury on an atrocious day, at a stadium they weren't using in the summer and on an artificial turf they had never trained on. If only John Collins could have seen this. In fact, the night before the surface had been deemed unfit for the titanic clash between the Metroford Wolves and Cliff Avenue United in the Vancouver Metropolitan Soccer League.
The Tartan Army were in fair voice but drowned out by the utterly embarrassing made up chants of the Vancouver Whitecaps fans who mimicked what they heard on the EPL coverage. Eventually with over 4000 packed into the one stand the place had, and about 100 more stood out in the torrent, the players appeared.
Like standing still in the rain isn't bad enough after you've warmed up, the players had to sit through the slowest rendition of Flower of Scotland I've ever heard.
Match Report to Follow:
The players had two good excuses for their inability to come to terms with conditions in the first half. Firstly, the pitch was still wet enough for spray to appear if the bal bounced hard enough. Secondly, the surface known as Field Turf was alien to our players and they had had less than 24 hours notice of the surface switch.
Of the Scots, Graham Dorrans, once of Partick Thistle, started promisingly and Steven Fletcher, Scotland's outstanding player on the day coped well. Others had a little trouble although Garry Kenneth initially seemed to be relishing the challenge.
It was Jaime Peters (Ipswich), Canada's Number 7, who set the crowd alight with an early dribble that left three defenders in his wake. A 13th minute cross from the same player found no-one in the Scotland box, while Dorrans was clean through in the 43rd minute but failed to break the deadlock as David Monsalve saved well for the home side.
A long range effort by Bryan Hodge was Scotland's only other effort of note in a poor first half.
As the rain went off, the players began to show a little more skill after the break.
In 51 minutes, Fletcher managed an acrobatic over head kick followed four minutes later by a long range effort which Monsalve saved.
Scotland created the next chance of the game which Dorrans squandered but it was the hosts who took the lead when Gabe Gala a half time substitute curled a long range effort over Andrew McNeil in the 67th minute. Minutes later Will Johnson of Heerenveen fed Tosaint Ricketts for a tap in and a 2-0 lead.
A harsh scoreline for Scotland improved when the goal blitz continued. Steven Fletcher deservedly pulled one back for Scotland from a free kick before substitute goalkeeper Scott Fox's 80th minute fumble let Ricketts in for a flattering 3-1 scoreline.
One was left to wonder what exactly the Scots had learned from the day given the amount of planning and travelling. The pitch in Victoria is also said to be sodden and needs the two days before kick off to dry out. Scotland will play their first two World Cup matches at Royal Athletic Park and it is to be hoped that they get a good run out there.
Scotland manager Archie Gemmell celebrating his 60th birthday was diplomatic after the game and said that he had no qualms about the game being played and his players continued to learn.
They move on to the beautiful city of Victoria where Scottishfitba.net will be there once more to report exclusively for its readers.
Pictures you won't see anywhere else to follow.
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
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