Canada’s second World Cup, waiting for the third

Canada’s second World Cup, waiting for the third

At the beginning of 2017, the Canada men’s national soccer team was in 120th place in the world ranking, between Nicaragua and Suriname. In just over five years, thanks to a rather charismatic coach and a new generation of players, the situation has completely changed. In the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in North and Central America, Canada did better than Mexico and the United States, and thus qualified for the World Cup for the second time in its history.

In the meantime, having reached 41st place in the world rankings, Canada will now play the World Cup in one of the most difficult groups, where it will meet – in order – Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. Belgium are second in the FIFA rankings and finished third at the 2018 World Cup; Croatia is twelfth and in 2018 even reached the final; Morocco are twenty-second, they returned to the World Cup four years ago and have a lot of quality among their squad.

For the Canadian national team it would therefore be a step forward to already score a point, or a goal, two things that they failed to achieve in their only World Cup, played in 1986. But the difficult group she ended up in could also open up to unexpected results.

Regardless of how it goes in Qatar – where the important thing was to get there – Canada is already sure of being at the next World Cup, given that in 2026 it will organize them with the United States and Mexico, and therefore will participate by right. It is likely that he will do so with a team which in its strengths will be very similar to the current one, but with four more years of experience. In some ways, for Canada, these World Cups are therefore a dress rehearsal where there will be little to lose.

Canada after qualifying for the World Cup (Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images)

The North American national team played its first men’s World Cup in 1986 and arrived there as winners of the CONCACAF Championship, the North and Central American competition — now known as the Gold Cup — which in this century has always been won by Mexico or the United States, the two football powers in that part of the world.

At those World Cups, organized in Mexico and won by Diego Armando Maradona’s Argentina, 24 teams participated and Canada (which had also applied to host them) was eliminated after three defeats against France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

Canada-Soviet Union in 1986 (Michael King/Getty Images)

Except for a 2000 Gold Cup victory, for the next few decades Canada didn’t achieve much or even come close to qualifying for the World Cup. Between 2009 and 2018 he changed nine coaches, almost always remaining perched in a physical and defensive football, the consequence of a team lacking in quality. The goal was to concede a few goals and somehow try to score at least one. But it didn’t always work: in this case, the 8-1 defeat against Honduras in 2012 is often cited, in a match in which a draw would have been enough to access the final stages of qualifying for the World Cup.

Things only started to change between 2018 and 2019. At the beginning of 2018 Canada in fact chose to entrust the leadership of its men’s national team to the English John Herdman, previously coach of the New Zealand women’s national team and then of the Canadian women’s national team, up to the bronze medal in two editions of the Summer Olympics.

Already in the first months of 2019, after only a year in charge of the team, when there were still several qualifying matches to play and when Canada was just above or just below the eightieth position in the FIFA ranking, Herdman he felt like saying: «We will qualify for Qatar, where we will lay the foundations for the 2026 World Cup».

John Herdman in 2015 (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

With the women’s national team, Herdman had to manage an already competitive group, which since 1995 had never missed a World Cup (and which then even won gold at Tokyo 2020). With the men’s national team, on the other hand, he had to start from much further away: he bet a lot on a new and promising generation, exploiting the characteristics of his best exponents to offer an offensive, aggressive, dynamic and rather lively football.

Herdman is also considered a great motivator and in addition to the tactical merits, many credit him with having created a very united group of players, which he began to build when some of his current members were not even twenty years old, without however giving up the more experienced players available.

At the beginning of 2022, when qualification for the World Cup was close but not yet certain, the newspapers asked goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who has been with the national team since 2011, what had transformed Canada so much and so quickly. “two words” He answered: “John Herdman.”

Milan Borjan in 2022 (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Only two years earlier the first edition of the Canadian Premier League had taken place, the first real Canadian soccer championship, which in recent years has become a good place to train players for the teams of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, which instead they play in the MLS, the reference league of North American soccer.

In a country where hockey is unattainable for traditions and following, in recent years the national soccer teams in particular have managed to create their own space, and as a consequence of this the number of practitioners has gradually increased. The local federation therefore entrusted Herdman with the leadership of what is considered the best football generation in the history of the country.

The most representative footballer is the twenty-two year old Alphonso Davies, who after a few years in the Major League, has been at Bayern Munich since 2019, where he already plays a fundamental role. With Canada Davies plays as a winger more advanced than Bayern. For Herdman, however, he “could play anywhere, even roll 10”.

In recent months, however, Canada have shown that they can manage without him as he has been absent for seven of their last fourteen qualifying matches. Another young winger with a technical attack and very fast on whom Canada is betting a lot is Tajon Buchanan, who is 23 and who since the beginning of this year has been playing for Club Bruges, a Belgian team that just this season qualified for the Champions League round of 16 for the first time in its history.

Much is also expected from Jonathan David, the 22-year-old striker of Lille, the French team with whom he scored nine goals in eleven games in the first half of this season: only Neymar and Kylian Mbappé have done better than him. Di David, nicknamed “Iceman” for his coldness, The Athletic he wrote that “he can be recognized a kilometer away by his peculiar way of running with a straight back, with a posture opposite to that for which Erling Haaland is known”, Manchester City center forward.

David in 2022 (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

David and Davies, of Ghanaian and Haitian descent respectively, were both born outside Canada, as were other players in this national team, largely made up of first or second generation Canadian footballers.

Well equipped on the outside and in attack, Canada are considered more fragile in defense and in the middle of the field, where Atiba Hutchinson is expected to play as a starter, 39 years old for almost ten years at Turkish side Besiktas and second oldest player at the World Cup in Qatar. Then there are those who believe that the now 35-year-old Borjan, of Serbian origins, no longer offers the guarantees he once had in goal.

Another doubt is that the team has managed to offer an offensive and rhythmic game against opponents who are sometimes good, but never truly excellent. Herdman has repeated several times that he intends to have the same approach at the World Cup too, but there are those who think it will be difficult to do the same against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. Herdman himself he said that for Canada the match against Belgium on Wednesday 23 November will be the most difficult since they played against Brazil and Argentina over ten years ago.

At this World Cup, only five teams (Cameroon, Ecuador, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Ghana) occupy a worse position in the FIFA rankings than Canada, whose minimum objective is to continue building something good. Even with three defeats, however, it is almost certain that Herdman – whose contract expires in 2026 – will be confirmed in his role as manager.

– Read also: What is Qatar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top