Just days into his job as head coach of Canadian men's national team program, Octavio Zambrano finds himself in Qatar — site of the 2022 World Cup and hopefully his team's ultimate destination.
The 59-year-old from Ecuador is at the beginning of his Canadian soccer journey. But in many ways it makes sense that Qatar be one of the starting points.
Statistically some of the Canadian under-23 players on display at the three-team Qatar tournament will be the right age for the 2022 World Cup. FIFA says the average age of players at the last three World Cups was 27 years five months, with only minor variations from that age in tournaments played over the last two decades.
Of course, No. 117 Canada has to qualify for the World Cup before any statistics would come into play.
Zambrano has started work on that. While he watched the senior side's 1-1 friendly draw with No. 67 Scotland from the stands of Edinburgh's Easter Road Stadium last week, he says he wasted little delivering his message to the players.
Zambrano does not want a repeat of Canada's "more conservative approach" of the past. In fact he is asking for the opposite.
"I wanted them to go out and play with freedom and try to assert themselves on the field and let the opponent know that they were there, not just participating but they were there to beat them," he said from Doha. "And I saw passages that demonstrated to me that they took that to heart.
"That is the most relevant aspect of them all. The fact that we got a draw, it's good but the most important thing again is the fact that I think it signified a little bit of a change in their attitude."
Zambrano met individually with some players and collectively with the team while in Edinburgh. Assistant coach Michael Findlay ran things on the sidelines.
In Qatar, Zambrano says he has already seen positives in his young squad.
"There are a handful of players here that make me feel very hopeful about the future," he said.
And he says he means the immediate future, given their age.
Zambrano believes the best of that young talent, blended into the senior team, will make for "something very good" when it comes to the next round of World Cup qualifying.
"If these players mature at the rate that they should mature in the proper environment, in four years time they should be here in Qatar representing the national team of Canada," said Zambrano, who plans to continue to coach the under-23 squad.
Canada failed to make the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which cost former coach Benito Floro his job.
The Canadian under-23 side, which beat Uzbekistan 1-0 Friday, plays the tournament hosts on Tuesday. Qatar lost its opener 3-1 to Uzbekistan.
After the Qatar tournament, Zambrano plans to continue his evaluation of Canadian soccer as well as helping the men's under-17 team prepare for the CONCACAF Men's Under-17 Championship in April in Panama.
His first match with the senior team is June 13 in Montreal against Curacao ahead of the Gold Cup.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press