Canada on the road to Qatar


By Aldwyn McGill

Canada World Cup squad

The FIFA World Cup kicks off at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, on Sunday November 20th, with the opening ceremony followed by the host Qatar playing against Ecuador.

The exciting news for Canadian fans is that after a 36-year absence, Canada will be one of the 32 teams competing for the Cup.

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, and while there are always the sceptics, Qatar world cup is expected to be the best edition of the tournament.

From a media standpoint the world cup in Qatar promises to be quite an adventure since the infrastructure caters for travel to the seven stadiums and the media are presented with a daily offering of two games out of the four played at the group stage.

Canada is in Group F with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco and, as the lowest seed in the group, the team has a chance to become the story of the world cup.

Canada meets Belgium on Wednesday November 23rd, Croatia on November 27th, and Morocco on December 1st. And with the top two teams advancing to the Round of 16 knock out stage, all eyes will be on Canada as the Cinderella team.

Canada seems to be ripe and ready to perform at this tournament despite several anxious moments heading into the tournament when player injuries were of a huge concern. However, all is well that ends well since the key players regained fitness and were named to the 26-man world cup squad.

Canada will have to perform with the same underdog mindset as the CONCACAF world cup qualifying octagonal tournament where they defeated higher ranked teams such as Mexico, USA, and Costa Rica. 

John Herdman

And while a Concacaf tournament is not the same as a FIFA World Cup, defying odds at any level is a great confidence builder especially when Canada lacks the world cup experience. However, Coach Herdman and his staff have defied the odds and can certainly reinforce the belief that their world cup mission can be accomplish.

Let’s not be fooled, Canada is up against a heavily favoured Belgium team which has a ton of talent with world cup experience and depth at all positions. Canada on the other hand can have a neutralizing effect if its youth and team speed work in coordination with an effective game plan. Canada has experience players on the roster who play in big leagues in Europe but it is a fact that there is no league level compared to the world cup where positional play (shape) and assignment protocol are at a premium. 

There is no doubt that Belgium will accept nothing less than a 3-goal margin win without conceding a goal against Canada, but Canada coach Herdman should be able to put together an effective game plan against Belgium.

Canada’s second game against Croatia will, for the most part, be played at high intensity base on the prospects of advancing and/or elimination. It is at this juncture where surprisingly most coaches are willing to answer post game questions about their team winning ugly.  

Canada’s adversaries Group F

With all things considered Croatia could be the toughest opponent Canada may face in the group based on their experience, physicality and attention to detail. However, as an older team there is no doubt that a Canada win over Croatia is more realistic than against Belgium solely because of Belgium’s offensive fire power.  

Another concern in the Croatia match is that Canada has not felt the pressure of an elimination match since the semi-final loss in overtime against Mexico at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Croatia game will be a pressure cooker. That is not to say that Croatia will not be under pressure irrespective of the result of their first match against Morocco, but it is a game which can change the fortunes or a team.   

Around the second game of the tournament the cream rises and goal differences and head-to-head tie breakers become back breakers.  

Canada’s third game against Morocco should be a dandy since it might be the last chance for either team to win and advance to the Round of 16. It could also be the last opportunity for each team to get off the mark in terms of scoring and/or gaining points.   

Coach Herdman has proven to be one of the best in preparing his team and it may be that he is anticipating gaining at least a point against Belgium and Croatia with hopes of posting a win against Morocco to advance to the Round of 16.