(Major League Soccer)
By. Emmett Lyall
The English poet Alexander Pope once said that “blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed,” words that ring oh-so-true for any long-time fans of the Canadian Men's Soccer Team. But with the World Cup just a few days away, and Canada participating for the first time in decades, the question must be asked: should the fans get excited?
It’s been a long time since Canada was represented at a FIFA Men’s World Cup, with their last appearance coming on June 9th, 1986 - just under 36-and-a-half years ago. To put that into perspective, there is only one player (Atiba Hutchinson) in the Canadian squad, and 15 players on the rest of the 26-man squads combined who were alive when that game took place.
All things considered, it’s fair to say that Canadian fans deserve to be excited. However, there’s a fine line between excitement and blind optimism, and it’s important to make that distinction before disappointment is inevitable.
Canada is in one of the more difficult groups for this tournament: Group F. With footballing powerhouses Belgium and Croatia to compete against, the thought of making it into the knockout rounds shouldn’t seem too realistic. Belgium has an incredibly strong lineup on all fronts: attacking prowess in the form of Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard (who, regardless of club form, always seems to turn up for his national team), creativity in the midfield with Kevin De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans, and experience at the back with Toby Alderweireld and Thibaut Courtois makes for an unbelievable team who (on paper) should be able to get through Canada’s squad with ease.
Croatia looks strong as well, as they have one of the tournament’s best midfielders in Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović, who should be able to control every game they play. The Croatian team has also had some great runs in the past couple of tournaments, with a strong performance in the 2020 Euros and an appearance in the finals of the 2018 World Cup.
There is a glimmer of hope for Canada, however, which comes in the form of the Moroccan National Team. While it will likely still be a tough match, Canada’s game against Morocco is one that they could, and arguably should get a positive result out of. With a squad consisting of incredibly out-of-form players such as Hakim Ziyech (who can barely get a minute in at Chelsea) and Youssef En-Nesyri (who hasn’t scored a La Liga goal yet this season), coupled with the fact that creative midfielder Amine Harit suffered an awful injury in the last game before the World Cup break, goals look like they will be hard to come by for the Moroccan side. If Canada can get an early lead, this game should be winnable.
Fortunately for Canada, offensive production hasn’t been a problem for quite some time. Jonathan David is currently sitting fourth in Ligue 1 scoring, having scored nine goals already this season, while Alphonso Davies has been his usual self, playing fantastically for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan have both put in numerous good performances with Club Brugge in the Belgian Pro League, and Stephen Eustaqio is in the form of his life, having contributed five goals and five assists from midfield this season for Porto. Any of these men could be the difference maker for Canada, providing a moment of magic to win the game.
(Major League Soccer)
This brings us back to the main question: should Canadian fans be excited? The answer is a resounding yes but in moderation. Expecting that the team will get past the group stage is unrealistic; even expecting them to get a win might be far-fetched. But the important thing to note is that that’s okay. No matter how the team performs, the fans can rest assured knowing that each player will do what it takes for Canada.
Every single one of them played their hearts out in the months and years that it took to get the team to Qatar, and they will play their hearts out in the 270 guaranteed minutes they have there. Regardless of whether the fans can expect Canada to advance past the group stage or not, they can expect the team to give it their all. And for that reason, and that reason alone, Canadian fans should be excited.