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Olympic Dream 90 Minutes Away for Canadian Men's Soccer

Three years ago Canada's dream of reaching London 2012 in Men's soccer ended at the hands of Mexico. Today they will be looking for revenge.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Over sixteen million minutes have passed since Canada last played in the Olympic Games men's soccer tournament. The year was 1984, in the middle of the glory days for the Canadian program, and the Olympics that year were played in Los Angeles.

31 years later, only 90 minutes separate the Canadian men's national soccer team and a long awaited return to the Olympic games. Today they play in a semi-final match against Mexico and a win would mean qualification for Rio 2016.

The importance of a win today is not lost on the Canadian players. They know how much it would mean for the Canadian program to finally return to a senior international soccer event.

"I think the team is very excited, and also nervous knowing that we potentially have a chance to qualify for the Olympics," said Canadian forward Michael Petrasso in a media call earlier this week. "As a group and individually it would be a dream come true."

While 90 minutes seems like a short duration, Canada has been this close to Olympic qualifying before and time has never ended up on their side.

The Canadian Olympic team came within one game of qualifying for Beijing 2008, but lost 3-0 to the United States in the semi-finals on two goals from Freddy Adu.

Canada came just as close in the last set of Olympic qualifiers, for London 2012, but lost the deciding match 3-1 to Mexico.

The good news for Canada is that there is an additional way to the Olympics this year should they lose the semi-finals. Winning the CONCACAF qualifying third place game would set up a playoff against Colombia.

The team is hardly thinking about that however, concentrating fully on the easy route: beating Mexico.

The Canadian team didn't know much about the current edition of the Mexican team they will face when they began their preparations for the match on Thursday, beyond the obvious.

"Mexico has always been a good said at every level," said captain Samuel Piette, who as a player on that team three years ago knows to be wary of the Central American giants.

Piette admitted to being nervous about the match against Mexico, but in a match like this said that, "if you're not nervous I don't think it's normal."

No matter how much they prepare for Mexico, there is only one side of the match that Canada can control, and that is what they are focusing on.

"The most important thing is that we concentrate on us," said Piette of the team's mentality before the match.

The tournament has been up and down so far for the Canadian team, who likely would have been hoping to avoid the Mexican team in a crucial match such as this.

But a semi-final against Mexico was all but certain when Canada lost its opening match 3-1 to the United States. They followed this up with a 3-1 victory over Panama but a shaky 2-2 draw with Cuba to round out the group.

If Canada want to beat Mexico they will have to play significantly better than they have so far in this tournament. The team has allowed six goals so far this tournament in three games, many of which have been preventable.

"It's important to not concede I wouldn't say stupid goals, but easy goals," said Piette, noting that Canada were working heavily on defending in training. "[There's] some little stuff we have to work on to avoid those goals."

Whether or not they can pull off a relative miracle and take down one of the giants of CONCACAF, the Canadian team is prepared to give one of the best U-23 teams in the World all that they can handle.

A win, however unlikely, would be the biggest in more than a decade, and in 90 minutes Canada could put themselves back on the international soccer map from which they have disappeared.

"In 90 minutes anything can happen," explained Petrasso. "We're strong enough and we'll fight enough to hopefully get a result."