Canada arrive at the Qatar World Cup as history-makers. This squad combining exciting youth prospects with experienced veterans of ‘soccer’ as they call it on that side of the Atlantic Ocean, is just the second Canadian team to qualify for the major tournament.
The country’s debut in the FIFA competition was in 1986. A year most remembered for Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ moment as Argentina went on to lift the iconic trophy for just the second time in their history.
But in the background Canada went about their trip to Mexico with no expectations. This was their triumph. They had made it to the world stage and anything else was a bonus. 36 years later, measurements of success have been reclassified.
How far can Canada go in a tournament full of superstar players and global footballing powers? Sportsmail answers everything you need to know about their chances in Qatar.
Canada qualified for the 2022 Qatar World Cup after beating Jamaica in Toronto during a CONCACAF qualifying match
Canada’s young stars arrive at the World Cup lacking experience on the global stage but how far can they go in Qatar?
Re-visiting Canada’s 1986 World Cup
Canada’s last trip to the World Cup couldn’t have gone any worse. A group stage exit after losing all three games and scoring zero goals in the process. Quite the way to introduce yourself to millions watching around the world.
France, 1-0 defeat. Hungary, 2-0 defeat. USSR, 2-0 defeat. Zero points and back on home turf after just nine days at the games held to the south in Mexico. This was the pinnacle of Canadian footballing history.
But the fact that Canada was even able to qualify for the cup competition was a victory in itself.
Canada’s last and only performance in a major international tournament was the 1986 World Cup – most famous for Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ moment against England
The collapse of the North American Soccer League meant a large majority of players and staff had to overcome problems before they even arrived in Mexico. Just a few squad players were getting regular minutes and fitness was a key issue.
Certainly not the same preparations that their current crop of players will go through heading into Qatar.
Englishman Tony Waiters led Canada to their first major tournament, where after establishing himself as a player in his home country, set off for Canada in search of managerial opportunities.
Englishman Tony Waiters (right) led the Canadian men’s team to their first-ever World Cup at Mexico 1986
Waiters played as a goalkeeper for Burnley and Blackpool amongst other clubs during a 14-year playing career
Born in Southport, Waiters enjoyed a 14-year playing career in the English professional leagues, taking to the turf for Macclesfield Town, Blackpool, and Burnley. But it was his coaching career in Canada that he was best known for.
His career highlight came in beating Honduras to qualify, thereafter he would be remembered as the man that led the country to their only World Cup, even if that was to be the height of the nation’s footballing history. Until recently.
2022 – A new squad, new manager, and new hope
And so fast-forward to the present day and the Canadians are ready to make history again, as a squad of European superstars and homegrown talent prepare for a first-ever winter World Cup.
32 national teams will congregate in the Middle East for the Qatar tournament starting on 20 November as the hosts play Ecuador in the northern coastal city of Al Khor.
Canada get their World Cup campaign started against Belgium three days later and will be seeking to cause an upset against the last stars of the European side’s ‘golden generation’.
36 years later it is fellow Englishman John Herdman that takes Canada to just their second-ever World Cup appearance
Canada travel to their second-ever World Cup with no expectations but will be targeting the knockout stages amongst a difficult group
13,316 days since English head coach Waiters oversaw Canada’s final appearance at a major tournament, fellow countryman John Herdman leads the country to just their second-ever World Cup.
The relatively unheard of Herdman won’t be a household name to most European football supporters, but across the water that is a whole different story.
The 47-year-old born in the quaint County Durham town of Consett has whipped up quite the fan following in Canada, with his current role being his first managerial job in mens’ football.
Canada’s Jonathan David (centre) poses a dangerous threat to opposition defences that come across Canada in Qatar
Herdman never quite made it as a player in the professional game but found success in coaching after beginning his career while still in his 20s at Sunderland as one of the club’s academy development coaches.
He subsequently packed up and moved to New Zealand where he took on further positions in coaching and development before becoming the country’s under-20s women’s coach, eventually taking charge of the senior team shortly after.
47-year-old Herdman will be hoping to improve on Canada’s disastrous 1986 showing that saw the country beaten in all three games
Herdman took the side to consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cups in 2007 and 2011, the latter was his final tournament in charge as he took up the reigns in the Canadian Women’s team.
A gold medal finish at the 2011 Pan American Games was followed by even greater success as Canada won bronze medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
Two years later those in charge of the men’s team decided to sack Ecuadorian Octavio Zambrano and draft Herdman in to take charge of the country’s national team. Quite the journey.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies is Canada’s dangerman
Under Herdman’s current four-year tenure Canada have moved up over 30 spots in the FIFA world rankings and he has made history as only the second ever English manager to get the country to the World Cup.
His team of fledgling talent injects a new dynamic to a daunting Group F consisting of Belgium, Morocco, and 2018 finalists Croatia, with Herdman’s stars capable of going under the radar in providing a huge early upset in Qatar.
Four of Canada’s stars that will be granted a ticket to the warm cities of Qatar in November currently play in one of Europe’s top five leagues. The same number of Canadians that have featured in this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies is the obvious standout name in Canada’s squad but there are other names that deserve respect heading into November.
Striker Jonathan David is Ligue 1’s second highest goalscorer this season, bettered by only Kylian Mbappe and tied with Neymar, having netted nine league goals in 12 league games for Lille. David is certainly a goalscorer that opposing teams will be wary of.
Elsewhere in the squad Tajon Buchanan has been part of a Club Brugge side that has already qualified for the second round of the Champions League and is the only team yet to concede a goal in the tournament this season.
Canada boast a squad of high achievers, history-makers, and huge potential, they may not have enough to be considered serious challengers at the World Cup but don’t be surprised to see them get past the group stage.
Canada’s No 9 Jonathan David has starred for French side Lille so far this season, scoring nine goals in 15 league outings
Canada’s Cyle Larin was the top goalscorer in CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers having scored 13 goals in the knockout stage
Canada’s star player
We’ve already mentioned some of Canada’s stars that could emerge into the global limelight in Qatar, but of course there is only one man that can be recognised as the country’s top footballing star. Alphonso Davies.
At 21-years-old most players are only just beginning to force their way into first-team squads as they take those initial baby-steps into senior football.
By that age Davies had already won the Bundesliga four times, three German super cups, two German cups, and one Champions League title with Bayern Munich. A resume that some of the sport’s biggest retired stars could only dream of.
Davies has emerged as one of world football’s hottest prospects having impressed during four seasons of first-team football at the European giants. Now he heads into the Qatar World Cup with the weight of a nation on his shoulders.
Canadian icon Davies has enjoyed tremendous success with Bundesliga side Bayern Munich having already lifted the Champions League in 2020
Davies has won four Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich alongside the Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, and UEFA Super Cup
Davies will be aiming to call on his immense success at club level as he attempts to star on football’s biggest stage with a nation that’s most realistic prospect is a group stage exit.
Born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents had fled dangers in Liberia in 1999, Davies hardly had the easiest route into professional football. He spent four years in the camp before his family moved to Canada as part of a resettlement program at the age of five.
Now he is Canada’s footballing superstar that inspires millions of others around the world.
Davies is often deployed further forward in attack for the national team often forming part of a two-man strikeforce
Davies has plied the majority of his trade as an attacking wing-back in Munich but don’t be surprised to see him deployed further up the pitch by national coach John Herdman.
The English coach has regularly sought to deploy Davies as part of a two-pronged attack and has been repaid with his brazen decision-making with the Bayern star scoring five goals during the country’s World Cup qualification campaign.
Davies won’t replicate the feats of World Cup headline grabbers Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane to name a few, but in Canada he will be the biggest name throughout November as the country strives for unexpected success in the middle-east.
Canada’s biggest challenges in Qatar
Apart from sharing a group with 2018 World Cup finalists and the remaining stars of Belgium’s golden generation, what are some of the biggest challenges facing Canada at the World Cup?
Obviously their first battle is adjusting to their new circumstances of playing in a major tournament. This will go either one way or the other. Either Canada’s young stars will thrive in the unfamiliarity of competing in a World Cup environment, or it will completely throw them off their game like a deer caught in headlights.
This will be a first taste of world-class football for many of their players and coming up against the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Luka Modric – and that’s just in the group stages – could be too much for some players to handle.
2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia pose a serious threat to Canada’s ambitions of advancing out of their group in Qatar
Belgium’s fabled ‘golden generation’ head into the World Cup as Group F favourites but should be wary of Canada
Remaining calm, composed, and professional at all times will be a determining factor in their success and it is imperative that the occasion doesn’t go to their heads.
John Herdman will be challenged by the youthful exuberance of Canada’s young stars and it is important he controls his players both on and off the pitch in luxurious and unfamiliar surroundings.
Other big tests await in the quality of their opponents. No 2 ranked team in the world, Belgium, will likely top the group and it would be a huge shock to see them do anything but dismantle Canada in Qatar.
The Qatar World Cup could be Croatia’s Luka Modric (left) and Belgium’s Kevin de Bruyne (right) last international appearances with their countries
Morocco represent a more opportunistic opponent for Canada with the North American side needing to win this encounter if they are to advance out of the group
Roberto Martinez’ fabled ‘golden generation’ will have one last throw of the dice at global glory in Qatar and will be aiming to lay down a marker of intent in their Group F opener against Canada.
Croatia, runners-up in 2018, represent Canada’s closest challengers for second-spot in the group.
Their aged stars of yesteryear will be undertaking what is likely to be a final major tournament with their country, with the global stage of Qatar an opportunity to show Croatia can still compete at the highest level.
Morocco, having failed to win a match at the last World Cup, will rival Canada for the groups wooden spoon. Coming up against each other provides both teams with their best chance to pick up valuable points in the race to make the tournament’s last 16.
How far can Canada go?
The Canadians could shock all and proceed to the tournament’s knockout stages as surprise trailblazers, recording victories over Belgium and Croatia on the way.
The more realistic outcome however is that Canada’s World Cup journey will be over after just three games.
Canada’s young talents arrive in Qatar with no experience on the grand FIFA stage but don’t be fooled, they are here to challenge
Canadian fans will see their team take on Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco in Group F at the Qatar World Cup that gets underway on November 20
Their squad consisting of some of European clubs brightest talents will surprise teams, but it is hard to find a way past two of world football’s most experienced sides.
Canada know how to find the back of the net and will score goals in Qatar, even against Belgium, but expect them to concede, and in some cases heavily.
Plucky underdog spirit gets you only so far and at the World Cup but this middle-eastern bow only bodes well for the future of Canadian football.