This article is part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 November.
In a country where so many are used to cheering for other countries at major tournaments, this group of players have captivated a nation by clinching a spot at the World Cup for the second time ever and the first since 1986.
After a gruelling 20-game World Cup qualification journey, where they surprised everyone to brilliantly top the final round of Concacaf qualifying, Canada were drawn in a tough group for Qatar, alongside Morocco and two European giants who made the last four in 2018, Belgium and Croatia.
Immediately, they set about finding an opponent who played a similar possession-based style with star midfielders and in a September friendly against Uruguay gained significant insight into what the task would be like in Qatar, playing well in a game they lost 2-0.
“What the players realise now is that we are right there. Some of the work in the attack just wasn’t clinical enough, but we are close,” the head coach, John Herdman, reflected afterwards.
What else was clear was Canada’s commitment to keeping the ball and being brave in possession, despite a step up in quality in their opponents. During qualifying, Canada were a major threat in attacking transitions and are blessed with remarkable pace that will be on the radar of all their opponents. Pressing as high as they did in qualifying, against top opponents, may be a bridge too far, but Herdman seems adamant that his team will not suddenly change course by sitting too deep, as Canada hunt their first goal at a men’s World Cup.
One shadow hanging over the preparations has been the tense and rather public negotiations with Canada Soccer around World Cup bonuses and image rights, which had not been solved at the time of writing.