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A Real manager for Canada

World-class boss takes over woeful national soccer squad

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Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani (left) presents Benito Floro, the Canadian men's national  soccer team's new manager, with an appropriate jacket at the introductory news conference in Toronto Friday.

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Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani (left) presents Benito Floro, the Canadian men's national soccer team's new manager, with an appropriate jacket at the introductory news conference in Toronto Friday.

TORONTO -- Benito Floro has more than a few treasured memories of managing Real Madrid.

But one stands out for the 61-year-old Spaniard, who was in charge of the Spanish giant from 1992 to 1994 and served as director of football at the Bernabeu Stadium in 2006.

"The best was when we beat Barcelona, playing well," Floro said through an interpreter.

Having once managed what is currently the world's most valuable soccer team, Floro's job now is to help Canada beat the likes of Honduras, Panama and others in CONCACAF and move closer to an elusive World Cup berth.

In addition to serving as Canadian manager, Floro takes over a national Olympic under-23 team that has failed to qualify for the Games since 1984.

For some, taking over a country ranked 88th in the soccer world, 10th in CONCACAF and with just three pro teams largely stocked with foreigners, then turning it into a winner would be mission impossible.

But Floro seems to relish the challenge that is Canadian soccer.

"Muchisimo," he said Friday at an introductory news conference. "A lot," said his interpreter.

He succeeds Stephen Hart, who stepped down in October following the national team's humiliating exit from World Cup qualifying via an 8-1 loss in Honduras.

In getting Floro, the Canadian Soccer Association has landed a career coach who has managed club sides in Spain, Ecuador, Japan, Mexico and Morocco.

Floro turned heads some 20 years ago when he led Albacete Balompie from the third division to Spain's elite league in three seasons. Real Madrid subsequently hired him, with Floro taking the team to a second-place league finish and Copa del Ray triumph. Real went on to win the Spanish Supercup, but Floro was fired the following season.

He then coached Sporting Gijon, Villareal and Mallorca in Spain, Vissel Kobe in Japan, Monterrey in Mexico, Barcelona SD in Ecuador and Wydad Casablanca in Morocco.

Away from the pitch, he has served as a TV analyst and was a member of FIFA's technical group at the 2012 Club World Cup.

"We felt that at this time in our country, that the person (getting the job) needed to be not just a coach, but also a person that brought vast experience from all over the world to a country that has been, quite frankly, lacking in that type of personality," CSA president Victor Montagliani said.

The CSA boss might have been forgetting Holger Osieck, who took over the Canadian team in 1999, having been part of the German coaching staff that won the World Cup in 1990. Osieck had managed in Germany, Japan and Turkey before taking over Canada.

Floro's contract includes several options and could run through the next two World Cup qualifying rounds -- for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Canada, which has only made it to the 1986 World Cup, will be a spectator again in 2014.

"You have to walk before you can run," Montagliani said. "The first objective is obviously to get us to the Hex (the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF). You can't get into the World Cup if you don't get into the Hex... "

Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama and the U.S., are currently competing in the Hex, or Hexagonal final round of qualifying. The top three will qualify for the 2014 World Cup, with the fourth-place team taking on New Zealand in a playoff to join them from CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 C7

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