Canada’s First World Cup in 36 years: How they Qualified and what to Expect

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Author: Matteus Hartmann

Player Cards: Colin Wong

Editor: Manav Jain

The World Cup, the pinnacle of sport, over a billion people will be tuned in for an entire month to watch the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, France, Brazil and… Canada? It’s definitely uncanny to hear about Canada playing in an international competition that doesn’t involve the Olympics or hockey. Still, the Great White North actually made the World Cup. Although it has been almost 40 years since their first and only appearance, Canada has a legitimate squad that can compete and cause some havoc in this year’s tournament.

Why the wait

The last time Canada made the event was in 1986. But why haven’t they played since? Because they have been bad, terrible if you will. At their lowest point in 2014, they were losing 8-1 to Honduras. They ranked 122nd in the world behind countries like Saint Kitts and Nevis, which has a population of just 50,000. Almost none of the players were in major European leagues, and the national team was an afterthought. Top players like Owen Hargreaves would choose instead to play for other countries, and stadiums would draw no crowds. Toronto FC, the most popular Canadian club side, only started playing in 2007. Considering the past and soccer’s historical lack of importance in Canada, getting to the 2022 World Cup has capped off one of the most substantial rises of a country in soccer history.

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Canada’s last World Cup appearance in 1986.

These Football Times

The Nation’s Rise to Success

This year everything changed. Due to Canada’s lower ranking, they had to play 6 extra games against other bottom-ranked North American countries. This ended with a 4-0 aggregate win over Haiti in a 2-leg knockout match. This win qualified them as one of the final eight teams in North America, known as the Hex. This is where Canada would battle it out home and away, all over the continent, from Toronto to Panama City. Being favoured second to last in the group, expectations weren’t high, but the potential started to show. After tying their first two games, Canada caught on fire, going unbeaten in 11 games straight and beating heavyweights USA and Mexico. All this occurred while Canada’s best player, Alphonso Davies, missed almost half of the games due to injury. Canada’s World Cup qualification was confirmed with a 4-0 win over Jamaica and culminated with a first-place finish in the group. Defying all expectations, Canada didn’t just qualify; they were the best North American team in the process.

Key Players

Head coach John Herdman will have the best Canadian squad ever going into the tournament. With most players playing at European clubs and some even making Champions League appearances, here’s who will be making the difference in Qatar.

Alphonso Davies

Alphonso Davies is the face of Canadian soccer. A generational talent and arguably the best fullback in the world. He plays for the German club Bayern München, a juggernaut in club football. At just 22, he has already won a cabinet of trophies, including the Champions League back in 2020. Although a defender for his club, he plays as an attacking midfielder for his country. He has incredible speed and dribbling abilities while still being a very competent defender. He creates chances out of nothing, whether that be an assist from a cross or a solo goal. Davies is Canada’s shining star and will be instrumental in their upcoming campaign.

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Jonathan David

Canada’s main man up top and a brilliant forward who loves putting the ball in the back of the net. Jonathan David is the striker for French side Lille and currently has more goals than Messi in League 1. A weak foot is a foreign concept to him, as he can score just as well with his left or right foot. He is a physical presence and deadly finisher in the box, but even more so an excellent passer who thrives in link-up-play. He excels playing off a more traditional striker who allows him to drop deep and behave as a false 9 who puts the attack together. When in need of a goal, Jonathan David is who you call.

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Stephen Eustáquio

Eustáquio might not be getting all the headlines like the others, but his meteoric rise this year has put him in the conversation of Canada’s most talented. Recently signing with Portuguese side FC Porto this summer, he has already won the Portuguese Liga Player of the Month. The beating heart of Canada’s midfield and a genuinely gifted technical playmaker, the midfield maestro excels at progressing play and transitioning from defence to attack.

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Tactics and Formation

It is difficult to pin down Canada as having a specific style since they are one of the most tactically versatile in the competition. Coach Herdman will constantly adapt the formation and style of play depending on the opposition. They might sit deeper against stronger teams like Belgium and try to use their pace on the counter. In comparison, against weaker teams like Morocco will constantly press and try to win the ball in the attacking end. What stays the same is the reliance on fullbacks. Tajon Buchanan has the flair and pace to torch defences and put in a dangerous cross. Captain and 39-year-old Atiba Hutchinson will look to be the powerhouse in the middle. At the same time, Davies will be slotted under a double-striker partnership of David and Canada’s all-time leading goalscorer Larin.

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Canada’s projected lineup

Canada’s Opponents

Canada’s Group F opponents are no walk in the park; in fact, the Reds might have been dealt one of the worst hands. Belgium is coming to the contest ranked second in the world and is amongst the favourites to win the tournament. They have a wide array of spectacular players, many of whom were in Russia when they lost in the semi-finals of the last World Cup. Their golden generation may be a bit past their prime, but with players like world-class midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, there is a reason why they are a front-runner. Speaking of world-class midfielders, meet Luka Modric. The shaggy-haired Croatian led his country to the final of the 2018 World Cup while being voted the best player in the world. At 37, he has aged like fine wine and is still one of the best on the planet. Croatia is a menacing team with great depth, experience, and arguably the best midfield combination in the tournament. Morocco is also no pushover. The nicknamed “Atlas Lions” went unbeaten in African qualifying but are the least experienced and have the weakest roster out of Canada’s opponents. 

Group stage matches for Canada at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ 🍁

🇧🇪🇨🇦🇲🇦🇭🇷#CANMNT #WeCAN #Qatar2022 pic.twitter.com/sqQrrip2VB

— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) April 1, 2022

If they do end up being one of the two teams to make it out of the group, the knockout round would likely see them facing up against teams like Germany, Portugal and Spain.

The Reds have a young, dynamic squad filled with the best Canadian talent seen in decades. They have 200/1 odds to lift the trophy, yet while considered underdogs, the potential is clear to see. The only question is will they break down like their predecessors before? Or will they catch fire and set the whole world ablaze?

Data Sources: FBref, FIFA

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