World Cup 2022 team guides part 22: Canada

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.

The plan

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.

v Belgium Wed 23 Nov, 7pm Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium

v Croatia Sun 27 Nov, 4pm Khalifa International Stadium

v Morocco Thu 1 Dec, 3pm Al Thumama Stadium

All times GMT

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Quick Guide

Canada group fixtures

Show

v Belgium Wed 23 Nov, 7pm Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium

v Croatia Sun 27 Nov, 4pm Khalifa International Stadium

v Morocco Thu 1 Dec, 3pm Al Thumama Stadium

All times GMT

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“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.

The coach

John Herdman became a household name in Canada when he guided the women’s national team to back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Since taking over the men’s team in 2018 he has galvanised another group, bringing purpose and unity to the recent underachievers. The English manager turned the mentality of the group from “me into we” and believed before any of the players that qualification for 2022 was possible. Tactically, he often changes formations during the game, usually moving between a back three system with wing-backs to a flat back four.

Star player

After missing seven of the final 14 World Cup qualifiers, Canada had to learn to win without Alphonso Davies, but there is little question who the star is when he is available. Herdman experimented with the Bayern Munich man in his natural left-back position in the early stages of his tenure, but Davies has made it clear that he wants to be an attacking difference-maker for this team and his remarkable individual goal against Panama in qualifying shows no one else can do what he can.

Alphonso Davies has a more attacking position for Canada than he does at Bayern Munich. Photograph: Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Unsung hero

Davies may be the best player and Jonathan David may be the best finisher, but without Stephen Eustáquio it is hard to imagine Canada reaching this World Cup. The Porto player, named midfielder of the month for September in Portugal, is a deep-lying playmaker in the Xabi Alonso mould that Canada have waited years to produce. There is no one else close to Eustáquio’s profile in this team thanks to his calmness in possession, ability to play forward at crucial moments and dynamic deliveries from set plays.

Probable lineup

Canada probable lineup

Qatar stance

With Canada qualifying for their first men’s World Cup since 1986, most of the news around the team has focused on performances but towards the end of October, Canada Soccer released a statement saying it “supports the ongoing pursuit of further progress regarding workers’ rights and inclusivity”. It added: “Canada Soccer has made the conscious decision to engage and partner with local vendors in Qatar whose shared values and principles are aligned with our shared Canadian values. We will be providing cultural awareness to our players and staff, friends and family and corporate partners in the coming days ahead of their travel to Qatar.”

National anthem

After 100 years of tradition, O Canada became Canada’s national anthem in 1980, having originally been composed in 1880 by Calixa Lavallée. Herdman has embraced the words and expects his players and staff to sing passionately and think deeply about the lyrics of the anthem:

O Canada,

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all of us command.

With glowing hearts, we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

All-time cult hero

When it comes to soccer popularity in Canada, there is nobody close to Christine Sinclair, a legend who led the women’s team to an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo last year and has scored more goals than any player in the history of international football. On the men’s side, former Premier League goalkeeper turned media professional, Craig Forrest, is forever remembered as being one of the best players the country has ever produced, thanks, in part, to a monumental performance at the 2000 Gold Cup that helped Canada lift the trophy. Whoever scores Canada’s historic first World Cup goal will be added to this special list.

Kristian Jack writes for the Canadian Premier League and is a broadcaster for OneSoccer. Follow him here on Twitter.


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