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Canada’s World Cup Qualification no longer a fantasy

Canada's World Cup Qualification

Photo by Dale Macmillan/Soccrates/Getty Images

Canada’s World Cup qualification ahead of the 2022 World Cup is long overdue. At the halfway point in the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying cycle, the Canadians sit at third, just one point behind the United States and Mexico.

The last time Canada earned qualification to the World Cup, just one person on the nation’s World Cup Qualifying roster was alive. Atiba Huthcinson, now a 38-year-old midfielder playing for Beşiktaş in the Turkish Süper Lig, was two years old.

Les Rouges sealed qualification to the World Cup on September 14, 1985. It was a whopping 36 years ago when the Canadians beat Honduras, 2-1, to make their way onto the world’s biggest stage. Of course, Canada wasn’t an elite soccer squad when they found their way to the World Cup. By that tournament’s end, Canada finished dead-last in its group. The Canadians failed to score a single goal before bowing out of the competition.

Now, over three-and-a-half decades later, Canada looks to book their tickets to Qatar in World Cup qualification. If the CONCACAF World Cup qualification tournament ended now, Canada would comfortably enter the World Cup. There are many reasons why this Canadian squad is different than the squads of the previous 36 years.

For one, Canada has genuine superstars on the national team. Them, combined with wise veterans and tricky coaches, provide a balanced threat against opposition. This team looks different, but similar, from the one that first took part in the World Cup.

Canada’s World Cup Qualifying squad

The Davies/David Duo

Alphonso Davies

The first thing different than the Canadian teams of years prior is the presence of a superstar duo. Alphonso Davies emerged as a household name for Bayern Munich in the 2019/20 season. At just 21, he is one of the best wingbacks in the world. He’s an integral part of the Bayern Munich offense. A wide skill set provides pace, pinpoint balls and lethal finishing on the flanks. His physical talent allows him to intercept a surprising amount of passes and his pace is hard for even the best to get by.

Jonathan David is an elusive striker terrorizing Ligue 1. In thirteen Ligue 1 games, the Brooklyn-born attacker scored eight times. David is also pretty accurate with his passes, having a pass accuracy of over 80%. David is dynamic, versatile, and a clinical finisher.

The duo is hard to beat on both sides. David’s offensive output combined with Davies’s willingness to get forward creates dilemmas on both flanks. Davies’s range at the back provides a safety for Canada.

By contrast, Canada didn’t have the stars that the Canucks have now. The continued increase in Canadian players in Europe, as we see in the United States, allows the players to develop into greater talents. Previously, the Canadians played at clubs like Rangers and PSV, but they failed to make serious and consistent impacts.

Larin, Buchanan, Ugbo, And More

Jonathan David and Alphonso Davies take the bulk of the headlines. That is because they are great players at great clubs delivering on the biggest stage each matchday.

However, we rarely see one or two players will an entire nation through World Cup Qualifying, regardless of the confederation.

Therefore, the Canadian supporting cast is equally important to the nation’s recent success. Wingers Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan have been helping their sides to success. For example, those two players have a combined 11 goals in Canada’s lengthy World Cup Qualifying run. In fact, Larin leads all CONCACAF players in goals through his nine games played this qualifying cycle. Their presences prove Les Rouges isn’t a two-man team.

In 1984, Canada didn’t have much of a supporting cast. Most players played in American indoor soccer leagues. Comparatively, 12 of Canada’s players now play in Europe, headlined of course by Davies and David at Bayern Munich and Lille, respectively.

It’s safe to say that the Canucks weren’t the international power they are now because of their lack of talent, players, and funds.

The Tactics and The Stats

Due to Canada’s spot in the FIFA World Rankings entering CONCACAF World Cup Qualification, the nation took the long road to where it is now.

In the Summer of 2021, Canada comfortably made its way through the preliminary group stage. Interestingly, the nation thrashed the Cayman Islands 11-0 in its game in Bradenton, FL. In the second round, a 4-0 aggregate win over Haiti secured a spot in the Octagonal. But, anyone can dominate against a tiny British Overseas Territory or a small island country in the Caribbean. The real challenges in qualifying followed.

To take a dive into Canada’s style of play, we need to look at their efforts in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.

Recent Form

Canada is the only team in the entire group to remain unbeaten. Despite their defensive success with four goals against after seven games, struggles transpire on offense.

Three 1-1 draws in the opening four games was probably not ideal. However, two of those draws were away to the United States and Mexico. Getting a point on the road against the top-two teams in the group is an honorable achievement. Also, the 3-0 demolition of El Salvador helped.

READ MORE: CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Schedule.

Canada's World Cup Qualification

In their last three games, the offensive struggles still arose, with one bright spot.

Canada suffered a 0-0 stalemate in Kingston, Jamaica. The Canucks had 64% of the game’s possession, ten corners and almost 200 more passes than the Jamaicans. Yet, the nation only mustered two shots on target.

Canada did better at home in Toronto. With eight shots on target and another ten corners, Canada destroyed an overwhelmed Panama side, 4-1.

Although deterred by a fifth-minute goal, an unfortunate own goal canceled out the early score. Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan all scored to get all three points.

More recently, the Canadians edged past Costa Rica in Edmonton to go third in the table. The contest resembled Canada’s game down in Kingston. The Canadians struggled to create shots, but an in-form David rescued his side to score his eighth goal of the campaign.

The Style

Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio broke down the Canucks’ style after drawing against Honduras.

“We came out on the front foot and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to be relentless in attack, and we wanted to bring an intensity that we lacked in the attack in the last two games,” the Toronto FC talisman said.

John Hardman echoed Osorio’s statement.

“The players have had experience together that we can adapt in games and no longer get caught in long periods where we’re losing momentum.”

The Canucks are attacking-minded, and their comments say so. They have a goal difference of +7, tied most in the group with the United States. Larin, David, Davies, and Vancouver Whitecaps forward Lucas Cavallini have been among many to help Canada’s scoring output.

The Canadians are also, as Osorio put it, relentless and intense. They are smothering their opponents, limiting them to four goals a game.

World Cup Chances

The Canucks’ odds of qualifying have gone up with their dominant streak of results against others. With Canada in third place, they look likely to advance. Yet, it will be interesting to see Panama and Canada fight for the third-place spot. After all, most of those who follow CONCACAF expect Mexico and the United States to finish in the top two spots.

The third-place spot will mean a lot to the Canucks. If they finish among Mexico and the USA, it means that they’re one of CONCACAF’s best. It legitimizes their presence as a CONCACAF dynamo. Also, most importantly, it means a guaranteed spot in the group stages of the 2022 World Cup. Fourth place enters an inter-confederation two-game playoff.

In previous years, Canada suffered during CONCACAF qualification. They always beat smaller nations,  but more skilled and talented nations overwhelmed it. Going neck-and-neck with the United States and Mexico and potentially emerging victorious could put an end to the curse.

A big game against Mexico on Tuesday will help us gauge the progress of the Canucks. A good showing will confirm Canada’s status as a contender: something Canada has been waiting 36 years to show again.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Tony

    November 17, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    ivan ,
    I do remember the US playing against Costa Rica in a snowstorm in Denver in 2013…..
    Another game that would not have happened in Europe………….
    But there again the quality of the officiating in these games is FUNTASTIC ………….

  2. Ivan

    November 17, 2021 at 5:29 pm

    All’s fair in my book.

    If you don’t let Canada play Mexico on a frozen plastic pitch at 5 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind-chill, no game should be ever played in, say, La Paz, Bolivia, at altitude of almost 12, 000 feet; or at any of the potato fields that purport to be football stadiums in Central America.

    It’s called home field advantage.

    Mexicans have only themselves to blame for taking zero out of six possible points away at US and Mexico. They will still qualify; it’s CONCACAF…enough said.

    Look at the playoff death brackets in Europe, Italia, Czech Rep, Portugal, Sweden, etc. then compare with the jokesters competing for 4 spots in Concacaf.

  3. Yespage

    November 17, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    @Tony, first time Canada has beaten Mexico in 21 years and that is the first qualifier that Mexico lost to Canada since 1976. More so, Mexico hasn’t lost playing in Canada in 31 years, so it hasn’t stopped Mexico much (nearly at all 3 losses in 11 games in Canada going back to the 50s) in the past.

    Yes, Edmonton is a bit up there, and playing soccer in November in Edmonton could be considered silly, however, Canada was cold in the 80’s and 90’s too. So, this loss isn’t a nail in Mexico’s coffin, but let Canada have it.

  4. Sean Johansen

    November 17, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Alls fair as Canada have to play in the heat of Central America so why not take home advantage. Wonder if Mexico enjoyed the cold and snow.

  5. Tony

    November 17, 2021 at 10:43 am

    So Canada beats Mexico on a frozen plastic pitch …….. Not much of a surprise there…… No game would have been played in those conditions in Europe.

  6. Yespage

    November 17, 2021 at 9:53 am

    Canada beats Mexico… in Edmonton. I’m not certain if this is a great story for Canada or a terrible story for CONCACAF.

  7. locofooty

    November 17, 2021 at 9:24 am

    jason, teams have ups and downs, especially in national teams. Generations are a big factor. A nice group of players show up and you’re good. They retire and the team is not so good anymore. I need more from Canada to say the growth is genuine and permanent and now they’re part of some big 3 in concacaf, but major props for them as they’re definitely showing up in this WCQ cycle.

  8. Sean Johansen

    November 17, 2021 at 5:56 am

    Just saw the news, they beat Mexico. WTG Canada.

  9. Mario Garcia

    November 16, 2021 at 11:54 pm

    They made a big step today by beating Mexico! way to go!

  10. jason

    November 16, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    CONCACAF was always a “big two”. Costa Rica’s performance over the years was really a tease. I never believed they were at the Mexico/USA level. Their dip shows that now.

    Canada’s rise looks like is genuine and permanent. So we finally hav ea “big 3” as it should be consider the geography and that Canada is a World Cup 2026 co host as well.

    I wonder how the 3 nations will handle the 2026 cycle without WCQ. Perhaps UEFA can fit them in their qualifying groups with odd number countries kind of like how they have handled Russia, Qatar, and France in the past when they were host nations. I think also the CONCACAF Nations League could expand where you have Hexagonal format home/away final round. Top 2 after 10 matches of home and away meeting in a one-off final match.

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