Canada’s World Cup credentials will be tested this November in Qatar against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in Group F.
While there may be more difficult goals – Spain and Germany in Group E – it is a challenging group for the number 38 Canadian men.
Belgium, who spent more than three years at the top of the FIFA rankings, are currently ranked second in the world while Croatia is No. 16 and Morocco No. 24. Only the top two teams in the group will advance to the round of 16 in the 32-nation tournament.
Canada coach John Herdman was unfazed with a big smile as support behind his team.
“Brilliant,” Herdman said of the group. “We want that type of game. You’re going to the World Cup. No match is easy. And I think any team can beat any team on any given day. It’s just tournament football.”
Canada was the last name called in Friday’s draw for the tournament, which runs November 21 to December 18. Herdman called it a “real moment” after 36 years the Canadian man was absent from the football showcase.
“For our team to be pulled out [out of a pot in the draw] and just to see that it’s real. Canada is on a big stage now,” he said. “We’re not just heading to Qatar. We are ready to play in Qatar, where we know the team we have. We have a good opportunity in front of us.
“Everything that comes out of the draw is just an opportunity for this region. The players — personally, professionally — the team collectively and as a country. What a chance.”
VIEW | John Molinaro on Canada’s tough competition in the World Cup group stage:
Canada will open on November 23 against Belgium before facing Croatia on November 27 and Morocco on December 1.
The teams that drop out of Group F will face one of the top two teams in Group E, which could mean a date with former champions Spain or Germany in the last 16.
Herdman, whose team topped the CONCACAF qualifying final 8-2-4, watched the draw from a TV studio in Toronto. The timeline was too tight to get to Doha from Panama City, where the Canadians qualified for qualifying with a 1-0 loss on Wednesday.
Croatia and Belgium finished second and third at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, respectively. Morocco are unbeaten in African qualifiers (7-0-1), outperforming the opposition 25-3.
Star-studded Belgium moved to the top spot in the FIFA world rankings in September 2018 and stayed there until this week, when it was leapfrogged by Brazil. The Red Devils lost 1-0 to eventual champions France in the 2018 World Cup semifinals before beating England 2-0 in the match for third place.
Belgium won this World Cup qualifying group with a 6-0-2 record against Wales, Czech Republic, Estonia and Belarus.
Croatia finished runners-up to France in 2018. This time won Group H in European qualifiers with a 7-1-2 record, finishing ahead of Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta while outperforming the opposition 21-4.
Morocco secured a World Cup place with a 5-2 aggregate win over the Democratic Republic of the Congo after 6-0-0 in the initial group.
‘An underrated story’
“This is what we wanted,” Herdman said. “We wanted that underdog story. We will be at our best when we rely on our grit, our passion and then carry it without fear. [attitude]The odds are in this type of game against the best players in the world.
“People like Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, Jonathan Osorio, local Canadian boys get the chance to match themselves but tell a story in that game. So for us, there will be no fear mentality. Not naive but not there’s fear coming in. Just look at the chance to pioneer this country and get it after scoring the first goal for Canada in a [men’s] World Cup.”
VIEW | John Herdman joins the Canada Soccer Legends Show after qualifying:
The Canadian men have never faced Croatia. Canada and Belgium have played once before, with Belgium winning 2-0 in Ottawa in June 1989. Canada are winless in three meetings with Morocco (0-2-1) with the last meeting losing 4-0 in Marrakech in October 2016 under interim coach Michael Findlay.
Milan goalkeeper Borjan and midfielders Samuel Piette and Osorio, members of the current Canada squad, all started the match against Morocco.
In Qatar, the Canadians will see their team play against the likes of Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) from Belgium, and Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard (both Real Madrid) as well as Luka Modric from Croatia ( Real). Madrid) and Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan) and Achraf Hakimi of Morocco (Paris Saint-Germain), Abde Ezzalzouli (Barcelona) and Yassine Bounou (Sevilla FC).
“As footballers we want to challenge ourselves against the best and we have that opportunity here,” said Osorio.
Preparation for Qatar
While Canada will play a CONCACAF Nations League match in June, Herdman said there would be an opportunity to play a friendly in Canada at the start of the international window. He said he would look to take the team to Europe in the fall to play more games to prepare for Qatar.
The Canadians have played only two non-CONCACAF teams since Herdman took charge in January 2018 – a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January 2020 and a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March 2018 in Herdman’s first game as coach.
Herdman’s record with Canadian men is 29-8-4 with only defeats to the US (twice), Mexico (twice), Haiti, Iceland, Costa Rica and Panama.
Canada clinched its first World Cup spot in 36 years with a 4-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday at BMO Field in Toronto, but Wednesday’s loss to Panama saw them drop five places in the FIFA men’s world rankings on Thursday — falling from their record — high No. 33.
Canada drew France, Hungary and the Soviet Union as first-round opponents in their only visit to the football fair — Mexico ’86. Canada lost all three games and outscored 5-0.
Friday’s draw had Canada in Pot 4, which featured the lowest-ranked qualifying teams. The draw rules mean that Canada cannot be entered into a group with fellow CONCACAF qualifiers Mexico and the US
Expectations rose as the US and Mexico went into Groups B and C respectively, leaving Group A open to the CONCACAF team with hosts Qatar, at No. The 51 seeds with the lowest ranking in Pot 1. Ecuador, the second team from Pot 4, finally landed in Group A.
VIEW | Canada booked tickets to the World Cup with a big win over Jamaica:
However, Canada dodged some of the bullets.
The winners of intercontinental playoff 1 — either United Arab Emirates/Australia or Peru — are in Group A but must move to Group D to stay away from their fellow confederation teams. That means Canada will not face France, Denmark and Tunisia.
The winners of intercontinental playoff 2 — either Costa Rica or New Zealand — were drawn in Group B but had to move on because the US was already there. That sent the 2nd playoff winners into Group E, alongside Span, Germany and Japan.
The intercontinental playoffs are scheduled for June.
Cameroon were drawn in Group F but were moved to Group G to avoid fellow African side Morocco. That means Canada is avoiding Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland.
Ghana was the penultimate nation selected, originally to Group F but also had to be moved due to the presence of Morocco. So the Black Stars were moved to Group H with Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay
It saw Bora Milutinovic, who took five nations to the World Cup as manager, pick up the final ball bearing Canada’s name — and with just one goal — Group F.
“Total troublemaker. Alcohol aficionado. Social media specialist. Friendly travel nerd.”