All Eyes on 2026 for Canada

Wed, Nov 30, 2022
by CapperTek

It has been some journey for John Herdman and the Canadian side. Following decades in the international wilderness, Les Rouges scored a major victory when bettering the more heavily touted Mexico and USA to top the CONCACAF qualifying section. A result which made the sports news headlines, and shocked betting fans assessing newbettingsites.UK list of new bookmakers.

That effort was good enough to book the squad’s tickets for Qatar, as they headed to the World Cup Finals for only the second time in their history – the only previous appearance having come at the Mexico edition back in 1986.

Heading East with High Hopes

It wasn’t just the fact that Canada managed to qualify that caused optimism amongst Maple Leaf’s supporters, it was the manner in which they did it. Recording home successes over both the USA and Mexico, picking up a point in the reverse fixtures, finishing as the top scorers and with the best defensive record in the section, their place at the summit of the table was achieved solely on merit.

Press for Success

The major building blocks for that stellar run of results were a switch to a high-pressing style aimed at winning the ball back at the earliest opportunity, and a youthful squad ideally suited to carrying out this high-energy strategy. Having proved so effective in the CONCACAF region, the next test was to see how these tactics would fare against the elite competition in Qatar.

 

xG Kings of the Opening Round

The result may not have gone their way in the much-anticipated opening fixture against Belgium, but Canada earned many admirers with an eye-catching display which made the Belgian side well and truly look their age. Canada simply ran the legs off Belgium in the process of giving Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and co an almighty fright.

That visual impression was firmly backed up by the stats from the game – the heatmap for the fixture being overwhelmingly centred in and around the Belgium penalty area, as Canada outshout their illustrious opposition by 22 to 9. An overall performance which generated an expected goals (xG) result of 3.35 which – despite Spain putting seven past Costa Rica and England hitting Iran for six – was the best xG tally of the entire opening round of fixtures.

There was of course one major problem with the performance. xG is one thing, but actual goals are what the game is all about, and Canada failed to put any of their numerous opportunities away – coming closest when seeing an Alphonso Davies penalty excellently saved by one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois. That save, and a Michy Batshuayi strike, which came completely against the run of play, was enough to condemn Canada to defeat.

No points, but plenty of positives to take into their second game against Croatia.

 

2018 Runners up a Step Too Far

What followed at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium was ultimately something of a footballing lesson for Canada, as the 2018 runners-up to France stamped their class all over proceedings.

And it had all started so well too – Alphonso Davies shell-shocking Croatia with an excellently taken header in just the second minute of the game. Any hopes that this may shoot Canada towards qualification were however extinguished by half-time, and in tatters by the final whistle.

Whereas Canada couldn’t cope with the press, Croatia’s vastly experienced midfield trio of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic simply used it to their advantage. Passing around and through the press time and time again, Croatia were repeatedly able to find space in dangerous areas, ultimately running out deserved 4-1 winners, having recorded an xG rating of 3.24 compared to just 0.64 for Canada.

 

Aiming to end on a High

Two losses from as many games has confined Canada to a group stage exit, no matter what occurs in their closing fixture against Morocco.

Demoralising a prospect as that may be, making it to the tournament, and their overall level of performance must be taken as positives. It should be remembered after all that Belgium were officially ranked as the second-best side on the planet heading into the tournament, and were made to pull out all the stops against Herdman’s men. If nothing else, that display showed that the side truly belongs at this level.

 

Better to come in 2026?

The tournament as a whole has also provided many members of the squad, and manager, with much-needed big tournament experience. Hopefully, the lessons learned in Qatar will bear fruit in four years’ time when, together with the USA and Mexico, the nation acts as the co-hosts of the biggest soccer event on the planet. With 14 members of the squad aged 27 or younger, and new talent emerging at a greater rate than ever, the 2026 World Cup may provide the stage for another giant leap for Canadian Soccer.

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