Two games was all it took for Group F to seal Canada’s World Cup fate and send them home, and after one more game, worth something in terms of this World Cup only for Morocco, Canada’s time in Qatar has come to a close. On paper, a 1-0 loss to Belgium, a 4-1 loss to Croatia, and a 2-1 loss at the hands of Morocco show little in the way of positive for the Canadians, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Before heading to Qatar, Canada’s avid supporters cautioned that getting out of the group wouldn’t be easy, and getting so much as a single point would be difficult. After all, the game most winnable in the eyes of Canadians turned out to be against the team that topped the group, proving that there wasn’t a single game where Canada wasn’t the underdog. Still, Canadians believed there was something special possibly on the horizon, and no one could tell them otherwise.
A valiant effort against Belgium in the opening game only reinvigorated the imagination of Canadians. It was something to behold. The world was seeing what Canada was privy to during the World Cup Qualifiers, and those who doubted Les Rouges suddenly believed that getting out of the Group Stage was possible. After all, Belgium was the best team in Group F, right?
If there’s one thing Canada can be disappointed about in this World Cup, it’s failing to secure a positive result against Belgium. The Canadians were the far better of the two teams, but Alphonso Davies’ penalty miss loomed large. You can talk about how Davies shouldn’t have taken the penalty, or you can talk about the questionable officiating that cost Canada a second (obvious) penalty, but truthfully, it doesn’t matter right now. Although it is disappointing to not get a result from this game, there’s an element that isn’t being talked about as much as it should be; experience.
Belgium, a power of European football over the past handful of years, came into the World Cup ranked second in the FIFA rankings. Although they aren’t the second-best team in the world right now, they have the players who got them there. Those players know how to win, both for their club, and for their country. Just because a team is starting their decline, doesn’t mean they are suddenly easy to beat, and truthfully, Canada’s lack of experience on the sport’s biggest stages let them down.
Against Croatia, it was much the same story. No one will ever forget the first Canadian Men’s National Team goal at the World Cup, but shortly after, everything fell apart, and the glory turned quickly to sorrow. Croatia, a team who made it all the way to the final at the 2018 World Cup flashed their experience, finding four goals, and ultimately ending Canada’s World Cup dream.
In their final game against Morocco, the team looked flat, and a mistake from the usually reliable Milan Borjan cost Canada the opening goal. Morocco added another, but an own goal at the other end brought Canada back within a single goal before the second half. It was unquestionably the worst start, and perhaps the worst half of football at the tournament, but you can’t question the resolve shown by John Herdman’s side in the second half.
In an alternate universe, Atiba Hutchinson’s header bounds off the crossbar and over the line, rather than what actually happened. In a different dimension, perhaps Canada walks away with a point, all thanks to the 39-year-old captain. But that didn’t happen. As unfortunate as it is for Canada, they, once again, leave the World Cup empty-handed, having just two goals to show for their efforts.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Yes, it is incredibly disappointing that Canada didn’t manage to find a way out of the group and go on a magical run, culminating in a World Cup win. But to reiterate, Canada wasn’t expected to win. After months of understanding this, it seems that the country as a whole started to believe getting out of the Group Stage was possible after the game against Belgium, with a subset of fans even going a step further; expecting it, and calling anything else a failure.
For many fans, the performance in that game made them forget about where this team has come from, and where they are right now. This is a program under construction, and it’s going to take some time. Much like highway construction, something everyone in Canada is plenty familiar with, you expect things to get better slowly, with lanes opening up as the work is done. It doesn’t happen overnight, and in the case of the Canadian Men’s National Team, it can’t happen overnight, it’s not possible. It will take time, generations even, to get Canada where they hope to be eventually.
Before 2026, there’s a lot of work to be done, and the players and staff know this. But Qatar 2022 wasn’t a waste of time, even with the results they got. If you happen to be a Canadian fan who jumped on board during the World Cup, stick around, there’s plenty more to come. If you are one of the people who have been supporters of this team since they were being destroyed by the Americans and Mexicans, and losing to other lowly CONCACAF sides, you already know the drill.
Canada has come a long way in a very short time, there’s no denying that. Already, Davies is one of the most notable names in the football world, and Jonathan David is perhaps trending towards a transfer into the English Premier League. Alistair Johnston is making his way into Europe with Scottish side, Celtic, and others, including Ismaël Koné, and Sam Adekugbe could soon follow. That’s not to mention the likes of Tajon Buchanon and Cyle Larin with Club Brugge in Belgium, and Stephen Eustáquio with Porto in Portugal.
With many players on the current roster heading into their prime just in time for the next World Cup, there’s plenty to be excited about. But at the same time, taking a step back and understanding that this is just the start of the journey is equally as important. So much has gone right since Herman’s takeover, but there’s still a long way to go.
The proof is in the pudding. Against Europe’s best, Canada faltered, but there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of for the Canadians. The only way there should be any semblance of shame about Qatar 2022 is if they fail to learn anything from it, but that is a test that can only be passed or failed with time.
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