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Can Canada pull off an upset or two at the World Cup?

The North American underdogs hope to pick up some points during their first World Cup appearance in 36 years.

Previous World Cup appearances: 1986
Best finish: Group stage (1986)
World Cup record: W0 D0 L3
Biggest Win: no wins
Player to watch: alphonse davies
Classification: 41
Accessories: Belgium (November 23), Croatia (November 27), Morocco (December 1)

Canada’s appearance at the 2022 Qatar World Cup will mark the end of 36 years in the wild.

The team is expected to struggle to get out of a tough group that includes Croatia and Belgium, but a strong qualifying campaign has raised hopes that they can still pull off an upset or two and reach the knockout stage for the first time.

Canada has previously participated in only one World Cup, the 1986 tournament in Mexico. Their historic appearance was marred by three group stage defeats to France, Hungary and the then Soviet Union.

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Participation in the 1986 competition marked the high point for Canadian soccer that would remain unmatched for several decades, until now.

But it also proved to be a punishing experience for the players, as the team failed to score a single goal and conceded five in 270 minutes of action.

They were one of only two teams in the tournament not to score a single point, along with Iraq, who enjoyed a superior goal difference to the Canadians.

Team Canada WC Friendly
Canada’s players sing their national anthem before the friendly soccer match between Qatar and Canada in Vienna on September 23, 2022. [File: Joe Klamar/AFP]

Canada will hope to regain their qualification form when they begin their World Cup adventure on November 23 against Belgium.

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The team topped the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) qualifying group, winning eight of its 14 matches and posting surprise victories against the top-ranked United States and Mexico.

All eyes on Davies

Canadians will look to the prodigiously talented Alphonso Davies, 22, for inspiration in Qatar.

Typically deployed as a left-back for his club, German giants Bayern Munich, Davies is known for his blistering speed, dribbling and shooting.

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For Canada, he often plays further up the pitch, allowing him to fill up behind prolific leader Jonathan David and giving him a greater opportunity to dictate attacks.

Already widely regarded as the best player in the CONCACAF country grouping, Davies will now have the opportunity to showcase his talents on the world stage.

His career to date has been decorated with a number of trophies, including four Bundesliga titles, several domestic cups, a UEFA Champions League winner’s medal and a FIFA Club World Cup win.

hard road ahead

Despite the hype surrounding Davies and David, also 22, the Canadians are not expected to make it out of Group F given the quality of Croatia and Belgium.

But coach John Herman has asked his players to enjoy the experience of playing in the tournament and urged them to try their best against the likes of Croatian star Luka Modric and Belgium’s array of world-class players.

He has said the team has an opportunity to create a “generational change” in Canada, where soccer has often been displaced by ice hockey and other more popular sports, and “create memories that will last forever” for the 38 million of inhabitants of the country.

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While progress is unlikely, a competitive showing in the group stage would still herald significant progress for Canadian soccer as the country prepares to host the 2026 World Cup, along with the US and Mexico.

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For Davies and David, this year’s tournament will provide a platform from which they can potentially launch their already well-established careers to even greater heights.

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