It feels like a genuinely exciting time for football in Canada, both domestically and on the international front.
The launch of the Canadian Premier League this year brought a lot of excitement and a place for young Canadian talent to burgeon and the national team’s 2-0 victory over the US in the Nations League this week brought such joy and excitement as to what may lie in store for this talented young group of players.
Next weekend the future of the Canadian national team, Andrew Olivieri’s U17 squad, kick off their 2019 FIFA U17 World Cup campaign in Brazil. It’s the seventh time Canada have qualified for the biennial event, and the first time since the 2013 tournament in the UAE. There’s six Whitecaps named to the team – defenders Nathan Demian, Gianfranco Facchineri, and Deylen Vellios, midfielders Emiliano Brienza and Damiano Pecile, and forward Kamron Habibullah.
The Whitecaps held media availability with the guys before they jetted off to Argentina for a 12 day preparation camp, and over the next week or so we’re going to bring you some profiles and chats with the ‘Caps young stars, and we’ll kick things off today with Canada’s captain, and the man who scored the winning penalty to seal Canada’s spot at the finals, Gianfranco Facchineri.
With the scores tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of action, Canada captain Facchineri kept his cool to slot home the vital spot kick against Costa Rica in their CONCACAF U17 Championship semi-final, giving Canada the 4-3 victory and booking a berth in Brazil.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 12, 2019
It was a true captain’s moment and it’s a role the 17-year-old both relishes and respects. What wearing the armband encapsulates is certainly not lost on him, in terms of both the now and setting an example for those following in his footsteps.
“Something that we talk about with the national team is leaving the shirt in a better place,” Facchineri revealed. “Our goal is to do better than any men’s team has ever done at a World Cup. If I get the opportunity to be the captain and hopefully lead the team and try to elevate the team to something like that, it would be great.”
“We want to make it to a knockout round, we want to win a game, we want to do better than any team has done before. We want the younger generations coming through to look at what we’ve done and say we want to emulate what that team has done, and then go on to do better than we’ve done. That’s our goal.”
Facchineri has been involved in Canada’s youth program since the age of 13 and has been part of the national team at U15 and U17 level. The CONCACAF championships in May was the biggest stage he’d been involved with so far in his fledgling career, but he knows the adventure waiting in Brazil is even grander.
“It will be the greatest experience of my life,” Facchineri said of the upcoming tournament. “Being able to represent my country will be a dream come true. Every kid dreams of playing in a World Cup, at whatever level it be at – U-17s, U-20s, or the first team level. Being able to represent my country will be the best experience ever.”
Canada have been drawn in Group A alongside Brazil, New Zealand, and Angola. With the top two advancing, and the possibility of third place earning a Round of 16 spot as well, the opportunity to advance to the knockout stage is most definitely there. No-one is taking anything for granted though.
“We know we have a tough group,” Facchineri noted. “It’s going to be the best countries in the world at the U-17 level, so it’s going to be difficult. We’re fortunate enough to play Brazil in the first game, to open up the tournament. It’s going to be difficult, it’s the Brazilian national team, that will be tough. Angola will be a different challenge, and New Zealand a different one from that. So it’s going to be difficult in different ways, but I think we’ll be prepared for it.”
That first game against Brazil, on Saturday October 26th, is going to be a massive occasion. The tournament’s opening game, against the hosts, should see quite the atmosphere in the 20,000 capacity Estadio Bezerra in Brasilia.
Facchineri has been part of the Whitecaps U23 squad this past year, making trips with the team to Mexico and South Korea, and playing in front of some good crowds in the case of the latter. That experience is certainly something he feels will be good preparation to what Canada will be up against in Brazil.
“Playing in front of all of those people and playing against really good competition, grown men, has been a good experience,” Facchineri feels. “That will definitely prepare me better for the World Cup.”
Also helping will be the familiarity of having five Whitecaps teammates with him in the squad. That will certainly help build some much needed team chemistry, but he’s aware the need to do that as a squad and not just in their small individual team groups.
“It’s great to have some of your club teammates [around you],” Facchineri said. “As always you go in there to a different environment, players from different clubs. So to have some of your teammates from your club environment there is great, it gives you a better sense of how comfortable you can be around everybody.
“But the biggest challenge is making sure that players from all different clubs can come together. So it’s nice to have the guys from your club, but then you want to try and integrate with the rest of the clubs and become one big unit, one big team.”
The preparation camp in Argentina will certainly help with that and Facchineri is confident that the overall camaraderie of the group when they came together during qualifying, will continue now into the World Cup itself.
“From when we started, when we had our first camp and were first looking forward to qualifying, we’ve come together immensely,” Facchineri said. “So much more than we were at the start. We were different groups, nobody was eating together. Now we’re like a big team, a big family. So it’s really, really good, and that team chemistry will hopefully help us on the field.”
This is Facchineri’s second season as a Whitecap, after joining the Academy in August 2018, and he’s already been highly touted by many that have seen him play. When you look at all the homegrowns that have come through the ‘Caps system over the years, the one position that glaringly stands out as missing is that of centre back. Facchineri could certainly be the player to break that.
He’s a no-nonsense, tough tackling centreback, good in the air and dominant at the back. He’s done well in the Development squad matches and has spent a few sessions training with the first team. Whether he now goes on to take that next step to a MLS contract will be the next question. He’s certainly seen his game grow though training with the first team guys.
“Training with the first team has been great,” Facchineri said. “You get to learn a lot more training with the first team than you would just playing with kids your own age. You go there and the players are better than you, and they’ll beat you from time to time, but you can take those as learning experiences. They’ve welcomed me with open arms and they’ve helped me immensely throughout all of it.”
But all that talk is for the future. For now, he’s just looking to get on the pitch and represent his country the best he can, but he is allowing himself to soak in the fact that he will be playing in the same tournament as past stars like Neymar, Totti, and Buffon.
“It’s incredible to think that you’ll be able to play in the same tournament as those guys,” Facchineri mused. “You’ve seen some of those guys go on to actually win World Cups. To play in the same tournament that those guys have played in will be a very, very cool experience.”