Far from being in vain, the Canada vs. Morocco is another opportunity for men to make history at the World Cup

Chris Jones was in Qatar covering the men’s World Cup for CBC Sports.

Now we come to the notion of “meaninglessness.”

The Canadian men will play their final game of this World Cup on Thursday against Morocco. After losses to Belgium and Croatia, they were mathematically eliminated to advance to the last 16, which starts Saturday in Qatar.

Games still matter. Very important for Morocco, who qualify with a win or a draw. That’s also important, or should be, for this Canadian team. It took them two years of qualification to get here. They had to play 20 matches, from frozen Edmonton to steamy Costa Rica, to reach their first men’s World Cup since 1986.

“I think this is a real opportunity for our players, for our country, to keep going,” head coach John Herdman told his third and final pre-match press conference in Qatar. “We will remain committed to our identity and enter this game with the opportunity to make more history.”

When Alphonso Davies scored 68 seconds into the Croatia game, this team had done their part: it was the first men’s World Cup goal for Canada. (The 1986 side failed to score in a three-game losing streak.)

At Tuesday’s electrifying team meeting, footage of the goal and the celebration that followed played out on repeat. “They have to see what we really came here for: to give Canada that moment,” Herdman said.

Herdman celebrated Alphonso Davies’ historic goal on Sunday with Milan keeper Borjan. (Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

Free Moroccan coach from Canada

Unfortunately, Croatia replied with four goals of their own. There he is. Canada is the second team to be eliminated, after hosts Qatar, with one game remaining.

There is still a first to win.

“The team set clear goals for coming here,” Herdman said. “First team to score. First team to play without fear. First team to entertain. First team to keep a clean sheet. First team to get a result. First team to get a win.

“We believe [those] goal is still achievable.”

The Moroccans — “a highly motivated tough opponent,” says Herdman — will counter with a more ambitious agenda of their own. Morocco is playing its fifth men’s World Cup; it only made the round of 16, in 1986.

“For me they are one of the best squads in this championship,” Morocco head coach Walid Reragui said of Canada. “Of course, they want to make history themselves… But I’m not interested in what Canada needs. It’s about what we need. Our players also want to make history.”

Reragui paid further credit to the Canadian who, in his sad state, also feels like a thorn. “They are a team that should get more points,” he said.

Herdman shouted at Davies during Canada’s 4-1 loss to Croatia. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

With the exception of the two World Cup finalists, most of the teams had no idea they would be playing their last game before it started. Only Qatar and Canada bear the brunt of this dismal knowledge.

It now depends on whether Canadians can resist the instinct to be sad about the end of the road, and find the passion, the cruelty, needed to finish strong.

“I don’t think that this group knows anything other than to go out and look for the three points,” Earl Cochrane, general secretary of Soccer Canada, said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with CBC at the team’s hotel in Lusail. “That’s their mindset. It’s how they’ve been built.

“I think they’re going to go and look for those opportunities to get the three points. I don’t think that’s what they need to hear from me or anyone else.”

In a bittersweet way, Thursday’s match will be the ultimate test for a man like Herdman. His desires and desires will wage war within him.

He wants results. He wants to win.

WATCH | Soccer North — Canada vs Croatia post match reaction show:

Post match Canada vs Croatia reaction show

Watch Andi Petrillo and guests watch the Canada vs. Croatia at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

He also has nine players yet to play — nine loyal men who have struggled alongside him for a very long time. Mark-Anthony Kaye is one of them. Samuel Piette is another. Ike Ugbo. David Wotherspoon. Liam Fraser.

The thought of that lineup decision brought Herdman to a verge of tears. “These are the people you have built a genuine relationship with,” he says. “You know their family. They know you… But all our players agree. It’s not about them tomorrow, getting World Cup minutes.”

He said a surrogate came to his hotel room to have a “really emotional” meeting. The player – not named, but someone who had been in the program for six or seven years – told Herdman that if the choice was between a result for the team, and a minute in the sun for him, then Herdman should choose the team.

“That’s what this team is for,” Herdman said. “That’s what I love about them.” And then he stopped talking.

Nothing is meaningless in the World Cup.

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Hadwin Floyd

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