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
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.
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.
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.
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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