For the first time since 1986, Canada is going to the FIFA World Cup.
It has been a tumultuous 36 years for the Canadian national men’s soccer team, who struggled to produce talent or find team success, becoming an afterthought in international football and within Canada for over three decades.
Meanwhile, however ironically, the country saw a wave of soccer passion flood through the population. In large part due to an influx of immigrants from soccer-loving countries — as almost one-quarter (23.0%) of Canada’s population was considered a landed immigrant or permanent resident by 2021 — the country embraced soccer as its most popular sport.
Even with Canada’s men’s team struggling in obscurity, first and second generation Canadians were inspired by the likes of Lionel Messi and Christian Ronaldo, two of the greatest footballers to ever lace them up. In major cities across Canada, people took to the streets every two years to dance atop streetcars and lampposts, celebrating the winners of the UEFA Euro Cup and FIFA World Cup and consequently their Brazilian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, and Italian heritage.
But while most Canadians simply drank beer and cheered during those games, some went on to become elite footballers themselves, including the Liberian refugee who became the greatest men’s soccer talent Canada has ever produced, Alphonso Davies.
Now, Davies and 25 other Canadians have powered Canada to the 41st-ranked team in the world through a dominant CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean) qualifying campaign, where they went 14-2-4 and outscored opponents 54-8 to finish No. 1 in the region ahead of powerhouses Mexico and the United States. And in a couple of days, they will represent Canada in its first World Cup in over three decades. It should be special.
“For us, we haven’t been here for 30-odd years,” Canada manager John Herdman said. “As a country, I know the majority of fans are just going to enjoy this moment for what it is: The first time in generations that they’ve been able to put their Italian jersey in the drawer, their Croatian jersey in the drawer, their Greek jersey in the drawer and put the red on.”
Team Canada will not be wearing new kits at the tournament.
Here is Everything You Need to Know About Canada at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar
Players to Watch
Alphonso Davies (left wing): The 22-year-old left back for Bayern Munich plays a much more attacking role for the national team, where he uses his unrelenting speed to punish defenders and his creative dribbling to set up teammates. Unfortunately, Davis suffered a right hamstring injury on Nov. 5 and his status for the opening match is questionable, though he did recently say that he is “ready to start.”
Jonathan David (striker): The 22-year-old Ottawa native is a goal scoring machine, finishing 19 chances during the 2021-22 season and nine and counting already this season with Lille in France’s Ligue 1, where he is in top form. Plenty of eyes will be on him in Qatar as the young Canadian eyes a move to a bigger club in the near future.
Cyle Larin (striker): The Brampton, Ont. native is Canada’s all-time leader in goals scored with 25, showcasing that Canada’s depth lies in their forwards positions, where they are a threat to score several goals on any given night.
Atiba Hutchinson (midfielder): At 39 years old, Hutchinson is the longtime captain and emotional heartbeat of Team Canada, appearing in a record 97 caps. Playing alongside creative playmaker Stephen Eustáquio in the midfield, Hutchinson’s defensive instincts will be crucial if Canada hopes to control the game in the middle of the field and keep the pressure off of their defenders.
Milan Borjan (goalkeeper): The 35-year-old Borjan will be Canada’s X-Factor in his first and potentially last World Cup, entering the competition with 68 caps for Canada as he hopes to follow up a qualifying campaign that saw him in top form.
Belgium (Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2:00 p.m. EST): The No. 2 ranked team in the world, Belgium is rife with talent, including Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne. Despite having a history of earlier than anticipated exits from international competitions, Belgium will be a tough test for Canada in their first World Cup match in 36 years.
Croatia (Sunday, Nov. 27, 11:00 a.m. EST): The No. 12 ranked nation made it all the way to the final of the 2018 World Cup, where Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric could not be stopped in his Ballon d’Or year. While the team is older now, they are talented and experienced, and it will likely come down to them and Canada for second-place in the group.
Morocco (Thursday, Dec. 1, 10:00 a.m. EST): The North African side is no slouch, either, Ranked 22nd in the world, Morocco is led by Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech, who has a knack for scoring goals after creating something from nothing. Canada will likely need a win over Morocco in order to advance when the two sides face to close out match play.
How Team Canada Can Win
Canada will need to finish in the top-2 of Group F in order to move on to the knockout stage. Rankings are decided by a points system, with three points awarded for a win, one point for a tie, and zero points for a loss. In the case of multiple teams finishing with the same number of points after the group stage, goal differential becomes the tiebreaker, which is simply the total number of goals scored minus goals surrendered in all group stage matches.