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Herdman’s Canada proves its attacking, pressing style does translate to World Cup

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It started even before our eyes had dried.  Pretty much from the opening whistle.  The answer to the question we had all been asking ever since John Herdman’s Canada qualified for the World Cup on that wonderful night at BMO Field against Jamaica: Can our boys hang with the elite of world football?

On that night in Doha at least, the answer teased us at first, and then forced its way into our northern sports narrative: Damn right, we can. 

Herdman told his band of brothers just that post-match, in one of those team huddles that every upstart side that needs to punch above its weight finds itself in at some point, usually with the cameras rolling.

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Ok, the exact term he used was “we belong” but you get the idea.

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For 90 minutes on Wednesday night, Canada went at the second-ranked side in world football. If there were nerves — and I’m sure there were — they weren’t on display. There was Richie Laryea seemingly covering every inch of the pitch at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium. Kamal Miller announcing himself on the world stage with some breathtaking challenges. And Jonathan David’s hips reminding us of a young Eden Hazard, who, on the other side, seemed to turn back the clock. It was the great Atiba Hutchinson, controlling play for 55 minutes before handing the torch — sorry, I mean the midfield — to Ismael Kone.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. And as we grow up as a football nation, it’s important that we analyze with balance. Alphonso Davies probably should have left the penalty-taking duties to David, and in truth the ‘face of the franchise’ didn’t have his best match in a Canadian shirt. The set pieces were poor, and if I never see another ball over the top catch the centre-backs by surprise, it’ll be too soon!

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Yet, here we are relatively comfortable in the knowledge that despite a supposed weak Concacaf, Canada can play its preferred brand against any nation no matter the name or location. 

The Belgium media will not view that performance well, despite the win.  They will criticize Roberto Martinez’s team, accusing them of taking Canada too lightly and reinforcing the belief that the window to win something has closed for Belgium. And in truth, as we have seen in technicolor over the last couple of days, the first match can be a stumbling block for the favoured nations. Yet Canada made it difficult for them and showed no fear. They didn’t care that Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in the world, or that Thibault Courtois thinks that he should have won the Ballon d’Or.

The result, given our development as a nation, is really irrelevant compared to the performance. Unfortunately, this is the World Cup and points are kind of important. However, if six months ago you told any of those Voyageurs in the stands who did themselves so proud this night in Qatar, that a narrow 1-0 loss to Belgium in a match Les Rouges deserved to win would welcome Canada back to the big stage, they would happily have taken it.

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Come Sunday against Croatia however, a win is all that matters.  Canada’s time as a nice little story can begin coming to an end, as expectations will rise, pressure will build, and we can start taking the sport seriously on these shores.

Right now, though? Let’s just enjoy our return to the World Cup.

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Canada's first-ever World Cup goal, even in blowout loss, sparks hope

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There is hope that Canada’s young group can continue to grow and emerge as a genuine force alongside the United States and Mexico in the CONCACAF region.



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Canada Player Ratings: Davies gets redemption, but World Cup hopes end

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar – The Canadian men’s national team’s first World Cup campaign in 36 years will end this Thursday.

Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja wiped out Alphonso Davies’ early opener 67 seconds in, the first Canadian goal at a men’s World Cup, to lift Croatia to a 4-1 win.

With the defeat, Canada will be eliminated at the group stage, regardless of Thursday’s result versus Morocco, to close out Group F action.

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Here are your on-the-whistle player ratings for every Canadian starter.

Ratings are based off a 10-point scale. Anything above a six, the usual average for soccer ratings, is considered solid or better.

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Milan Borjan (goalkeeper): 8/10

Before the second half, Milan Borjan was going to receive a lower rating.

His hesitancy to come off his line and collect passes that ran through was peculiar. It nearly allowed Livaja and Kramaric to latch onto what seemed to be lost causes.

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Then Borjan produced four solid saves, including on Kramaric in the 55th minute, to keep Canada within touching distance until the third goal, reminding us of his heroics during World Cup Qualifying.

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Alistair Johnston (right-back): 7/10

Considering he was isolated most of the night, Alistair Johnston coped well. It’s a tough assignment having to face either Ivan Perisic or Borna Sosa on your own.

Johnston went on to win four of his seven defensive duels. Not bad at all.

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Steven Vitoria (centre-back): 6/10

Vitoria’s decision to push up, which vacated a wide-open lane for Livaja right before halftime, was one of his glaring mistakes on the night.

As usual, Vitoria’s distribution was decent, albeit with a couple of misplaced passes under pressure, but he remained strong in the air.

Kamal Miller (centre-back): 4/10

Four days after his man-of-the-match performance, Kamal Miller did struggle more often against a rapid Croatian attack and midfield.

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Miller’s weaknesses defending on the turn and in the air were exposed on the first and third goals. The mishit clearance for the fourth didn’t help, either.

It’s a shame, too, after what was a tremendous display in transitional moments against Belgium.

Richie Laryea (left-back): 6/10

Sunday wasn’t as eventful for Richie Laryea but he was solid at the back when Canada needed him.

The only wish Canadians would’ve wanted from Laryea was to be more influential in the final third, but Croatia’s defence rendered that task moot.

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Tajon Buchanan (right winger): 7/10

A lively start for Tajon Buchanan was negated by lackadaisical defensive duties. It was clear that Croatia was exploiting the right side with Johnston the only player covering the entire flank.

But there’s no doubt that Buchanan was a live wire when asked to be, as he posed a constant threat in transition and assisted Davies’ opener.

Atiba Hutchinson (midfielder): 5/10

It was apparent that Atiba Hutchinson, on three days’ rest at age 39, was struggling to keep up with the pace of play.

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Croatia’s midfield might have 37-year-old Luka Modric, but they still play incredibly slick and fluid football. Unfortunately, Hutchinson learned that the hard way.

The fact he stayed on the pitch for 73 minutes is quite surprising considering those struggles.

Stephen Eustaquio (midfielder): 9/10

Before he withdrew with a suspected injury, Stephen Eustaquio was terrific yet again.

He didn’t misplace a single pass on 27 attempts, and completed five clearances, a tackle and an interception before he checked out of the game at halftime.

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Depending on the severity of his injury, this could be a major blow for Canada ahead of the Morocco match on Thursday.

Alphonso Davies (left-winger): 8/10

Credit Alphonso Davies. The Bayern Munich superstar scored the first-ever Canadian men’s national team goal at the World Cup after one of the most heartbreaking moments in the squad’s history. That takes incredible mental strength.

He also tried to will his team back into the match after going 2-1 down by taking on Croatia’s defence, often on his own. The final ball didn’t always come off – he completed two of six dribbles and one key pass – but credit Davies for trying.

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Jonathan David (forward): 6/10

David looked timid and hesitant compared to the Belgium match. He was so eager to score in the opener that perhaps he was more selective with his shooting on Sunday.

Cyle Larin (forward): 5/10

After a strong performance against Belgium, Larin was relatively anonymous. He didn’t have a single shot and finished with just 14 touches.

Larin is a forward who needs to be actively involved, so the fact he was so invisible didn’t help unlock his best qualities.

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Croatia's Andrej Kramaric scores goal vs. Canada in 70' | 2022 FIFA World Cup

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Watch Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric scoring a goal against Canada in the 70′ in the 2022 Men’s FIFA World Cup.



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