Who is Canada playing at the World Cup, and what are our chances in Qatar 2022?

In this 3 part series of articles, we take a look at the history of soccer in Canada, who to watch at the 2022 World Cup, and what to expect from Team Canada, in Qatar, and also in future World Cups.

Who is Canada playing at the World Cup, and what are our chances in Qatar 2022?

Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

This is a tough one. As we saw from history, Canada has never sent a competitive side to the World Cup. On the 1st of April, 2022, FIFA did its World Cup Draw, finalizing the groups for the World Cup. Our best chance of making it through the group stage, and into the round of 16, would be, if we were lucky enough to be placed into the first group (Group A), with the host nation Qatar (the 2nd lowest Internationally ranked side in the World Cup). Unfortunately, Canada was not so lucky and saw Ecuador take the coveted spot in Group A. The draw didn’t really go in Canada’s favour, but it definitely could have been worse. In Group F, we have Belgium (2nd in the world), Croatia (16th in the world), and Morocco (24th in the world). Canada at 38th in the world is definitely the underdog in this group. Most people would have Belgium and Croatia moving on to the round of 16, but let’s take a deeper dive:

Game 1 (23rd of November, 2022 – 22:00) vs Belgium

Currently ranked number 2 in the world, behind only Brazil, Belgium is one of the best teams at the 2022 World Cup. They were ranked number one for a long time, and employ some of the best players in the world: Lukaku, Hazard, and De Bruyne to name a few. They finished 3rd in the 2018 World Cup, and are looking to win it all in 2022. I’ll be real with you, Canada has almost ZERO chance of beating Belgium in its first game at the World Cup in 36 years. However, what we could plausibly do (something that will be incredibly anti-climactic, for Canada’s first re-appearance on the world stage), is “Park the Bus” (a technique in soccer where you play defence the whole game) and pray… for a 0-0 draw, or even a surprise goal on the counter-attack. However, this Canadian team has not really displayed that style of play in qualifying yet. Canada likes to play offensive and take chances, but against a team like Belgium, this won’t work. Belgium has most likely already won the division, we are really playing for second place. The odds of Canada scoring its first-ever World Cup goal in this match are slim. We do have weapons, and speed, and a World-Class player in Davies, but there is only so much one person can do on a soccer pitch…

Keys to a Canadian victory vs Belgium:

– GK Milan Borjan. If he can have the game of his life it will help.

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– Canada Parks the Bus, keeping the score 0-0, and then waits to capitalize on a counter-attack or rare mistake from Belgium. A draw versus the 2nd rank team in the world is a win, as far as we are concerned.

– Catch Belgium off-guard with Davies explosive speed. He can beat nearly anyone in the world off the dribble and has the ability to finish or create for his teammates while on the run. If anyone can penetrate Belgium’s back four, it will be Davies.

– Keep Lukaku off the score sheet. He will be looking to win the Golden Boot this year for Belgium if he is healthy, and will most likely be targeting this game vs Canada as his first chance to show the world he means business. In 2021 he scored 50 goals in 70 matches playing for Inter Milan. To put it in perspective, he scored in 70% of the games he played that year, and that’s against some of the top teams in the world.

– Hope for a lucky foul in the box and a Penalty Kick.

 

Game 2 (27th of November, 2022 – 19:00) vs Croatia

Currently ranked 16 in the world. Math seems to say that Croatia will join Belgium, as the two teams from Group F, to advance to the Round of 16. However, in sports, anything can happen, and I see this as a possible game Canada could tie or win vs an older, and possibly slower Croatian side. Luka Modric is 36 now, and probably playing in his last World Cup. The rest of the core of this team, are all around 30 years old, and honestly, they don’t match up well, with the speed and youth, of this Canadian side. This is probably the most important game of the entire World Cup for Canada. Win this match and we will have a really good shot at making the Round of 16. Lose, and that could potentially eliminate Canada before it even gets to play its third and final match. Basically, our entire World Cup depends on this game vs Croatia.

Keys to a Canadian victory vs Croatia:

– Pace. This is an older more experienced Croatian team, that will play a more methodical Eastern-European style of gritty football. Canada is young and fast, with a lot of guys that can put the ball in the net. Canada needs to push the pace in this game, and bring on young legs late to take advantage of this, and strike.

– Play the wings. Croatia, and Eastern Europe in general, are best known for its large central defenders and great goalkeepers. We will need to avoid the defence and look for goals that leave the GK very little chance of making a great save. Trying to penetrate up the middle against defences like this is virtually impossible. Once again we need to use our speed to get down the wings and hope to create a goal on a cross, deflection, set piece, or corner – plays that are very hard to stop, even for a World Class goalkeeper.

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– Don’t let Luka Modric control the midfield. Don’t let his age fool you, he has played 10 seasons at Real Madrid, and he just signed a new contract with them for 2023. Though his explosive days may be behind him, his soccer IQ, ball control, and passing ability is off the charts. As basically the “point guard” of this Croatian side, to put it in Basketball terms, we need to keep the ball away from him, to limit his creation.

 

Game 3 (1st of December, 2022 – 18:00) vs Morocco

Currently ranked 24th in the world. This is definitely a winnable match for Canada, but the problem is, that Group F may have already been decided by the time we get to play Morocco. As stated above, if we lose both our matches to Belgium and Croatia, we are pretty much mathematically eliminated from the Round of 16. This might end up being a match for 3rd place in the Group if Morocco can’t beat Belgium or Croatia either. Morocco is no joke, they have strikers from Sevilla and Marseille, and defenders from PSG and Bayern Munich. Most of their team plays in western Europe at some of the best clubs. If this game ends up meaningful – it will definitely be a good matchup – and could honestly go either way. Hopefully, if we have been held goalless to this point in the competition, this will be the game that we finally shatter our drought at the World Cup.

Keys to a Canadian victory vs Morocco:

– It’s not clear if two of Morocco’s best players will compete at the World Cup. Ajax RB standout Noussair Mazraoui, and FWD Hakim Ziyech apparently had a falling-out with Moroccon coach Vahid Halilhodzic. Mazraoui, who played last year in Amsterdam at Ajax, is one of the best RBs in soccer today, and will actually be joining Davies in Bayern Munich next year. Since they both play the same position, this will be an interesting dynamic, if he indeed does play. Ziyech, the Chelsea winger, actually went one step further, rejecting his call up to the national team, for the final round of qualification, and even officially retired from International football. It is unlikely he will play.

– Without Ziyech, Morocco might have trouble scoring this World Cup, as most of their World Class players are in the back end of their lineup. Once again, this team, like Croatia, does not match up well against a young Canadian side with a lot of speed and scoring ability.

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– Hakimi is a problem. The best young player on Morocco, Achraf Hakimi, is also a RB/Winger. At 23 yrs old, he plays for Paris Saint-Germain, one of the most talented teams in Europe, and was transferred there for €60 million. To put this in perspective, Alphonso Davies current market value is around €75 million, if he was to be transferred. Hakimi is described as a quick, dynamic and powerful right-sided attacking full-back or wing-back, who is tactically and technically adept, and capable of playing long accurate passes from the defence. Trained as a winger, he can also play as an attacker, but we will see how Morocco employs their best player in Qatar leading up to this match. Hopefully, this match will be meaningful, which could make it one of the most exciting, competitive matches in Qatar 2022.

 

Round of 16? Will Canada make it through?

According to Vegas, the odds of Canada winning the World Cup, is over 150:1. You might think that is terrible, but Morocco, in our group is an even longer shot at 250:1. Croatia comes in at a respectable 50:1 and Belgium at 12:1, is good enough for 7th best odds to win the World Cup. Sticking with Vegas, we can look at the current odds they are giving for Group F, to get an idea where we stand, and unfortunately, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Vegas has Canada finishing last in the group, behind both Croatia and Morocco. So there it is, we have a better chance of winning the World Cup than Morocco, but they have a better chance of winning the group…

2022 FIFA WORLD CUP VEGAS GROUP F ODDS: Belgium -188, Croatia +250, Morocco +1000, Canada +1200.

 

Summary:

Congratulations to Canada’s Men’s National Team! You made it to the World Cup, and have a reasonably competitive squad. With a draw against Belgium in Canada’s first game, and wins (or draws) vs Croatia and Morocco, we could actually see Canada advance to the Round of 16, where at that point anything can happen! Hey, who saw Iceland making the quarter-finals of the Euros in 2016, and also appearing, for the first time, in the World Cup in 2018? Or South Korea, who had almost the same ranking as Canada does today, finishing 4th in the 2006 World Cup. Korea’s run in 2006 was one of the most exciting runs, by a low-ranked host nation in recent memory: upsetting Portugal in the Group Stage to make the Round of 16, and going on to eliminate soccer power-houses Italy, and Spain, before losing a close 1-0 match to Germany in the Semi-Finals. With a bit of luck, let’s hope Canada, can make a run similar to South Korea in 2006!