It’s time for fans to do as head coach John Herdman asks and trade their European or South American soccer jerseys for Canadian soccer jerseys as the men’s national team return to the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Interested in Group F, Herdman will lead Canada against Belgium in their group stage opener on Wednesday before taking on Croatia and Morocco.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the monumental clash in Qatar.
ALPHONSO DAVIES FULLY FIT
Canadian fans can breathe a sigh of relief ahead of their first World Cup game in 36 years after Herdman confirmed star man Alphonso Davies was back to full fitness.
The Bayern Munich defender injured his hamstring on November 5 and has been unavailable since.
Davies plays both in attack and defence, often flying around the pitch thanks to his whirlwind speed, is an important leader in the squad and especially the face of the Canadian team after his impressive European comeback.
The question now is whether the 22-year-old will reintegrate seamlessly, after two and a half weeks out.
On Tuesday, Herdman acknowledged Davies, as well as the previously injured Stephen Eustaquio (who pulled the strings in midfield for Canada), were both expected to start against Belgium.
Milan’s starting goalkeeper Borjan will also feature after suffering stomach problems. The news is important for the Canadian defense as second choice keeper Maxime Crepeau is not in Qatar after breaking his leg earlier this month.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Canada’s first clash in Group F was arguably the toughest, against second place Belgium. Even with the aging “Golden Generation”, that doesn’t mean you can write off Europeans.
owned by Real Madrid Thibaut Courtois, winner of the Yashin Trophy for best goalkeeper, will be hard to beat for the likes of Cyle Larin and Jonathan David. Canada also had to eliminate Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne who was expected to dictate possession.
However, Inter Milan striker, Romelu Lukaku, will not display in the game having yet to fully recover from injury, Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez confirmed on Tuesday. Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard, meanwhile, will captain the team and start the match.
Then if you’re a new football fan thanks to Canada’s impressive qualification for Qatar, the big names to look out for are Davies, Eustaquio, Larin and David, as well as defenders Alistair Johnston and Sam Adekugbe on the wings, plus leadership captain Atiba Hutchinson in midfield.
Heading into the match, Canada had two wins, one draw and two losses from its last five matches. The most notable result was a 2-1 victory over 24th ranked Japan as the final preparation match for Qatar.
Belgium, meanwhile, also has two wins, a draw and two losses to its name. Notably, both defeats came from the last two preparatory games heading to Qatar against the Netherlands and Egypt.
ALL EYES ON THE REFEREE
The man with the whistle between Belgium and Canada will be referee Janny Sikazwe.
The 43-year-old from Zambia refereed during the 2018 World Cup but recently became known for a controversial incident during the Africa Cup of Nations match in January.
Sikazwe blew the full-time whistle after just 85 minutes instead of 90 and then blew early in the 89th, seeing the match end prematurely.
ROAD TO KNOCKOUT
Canada will need to finish in one of the top two places in Group F to qualify for the knockout stage, which will prove a tough test.
Earning three points with a win or one with a draw against Belgium would significantly boost Canada’s hopes of survival.
Even though they lost, the 41st ranked team could still advance depending on the results later. In previous tournaments, the team had reached the knockout stage with a total of just four points.
World Cups are often wide open with plenty of distractions (as seen on Tuesday when ranked 51st Saudi Arabia surprised third place Argentina). Really anything can happen in Group F.
WHAT IS THE HOPE FOR CANADA?
The 36-year long wait to return to the Men’s World Cup is drawing to a close, and a country full of football fans – new or old – will be glued to the screens watching Herdman’s team attempt the unthinkable.
Speaking in the pre-match press conference, the head coach and players said they would not shy away from pressure and instead do their best; play their game the way they know they can.
Forward Ike Ugbo and defender Steven Vitoria have been a highlight of that squad in particular desire to be respected on the world’s biggest stage while Herdman insisted it was a new awakening for Canada now.
One thing fans can look out for is Canada’s first goal in the men’s World Cup. During the 1986 edition of the tournament, the team failed to score in all three matches.
If this new generation can put the ball in the net against the second best team in the world on Wednesday and potentially defend it in its first World Cup game in 36 years, it just might kick off a historic week in football.
HOW TO WATCH
Ahead of the game, CTV and TSN will be having a special three-hour preview starting at 11am EST/8am PST.
Play officially begins at 2pm EST / 11am PST.
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