World Cup 2022: Did Canada underachieve?

After the justified hullabaloo surrounding Canada’s qualification for the World Cup – storming ahead of the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica to top the CONCACAF pool – there was a great deal of speculation as to how far they could go. Drawn to face Belgium, Croatia and Morocco, the expectation was that the team would bow out at the first hurdle, with bettors at Bet365 NZ backing the two European nations to go through to the second stage. However, there was also a feeling that if Jon Herdman’s side could do what they did in qualifying, then a shock in the tournament proper was not beyond them.

In the event, the Maple Leafs finished bottom of Group F and, as in 1986, Canada returned home from a World Cup with three defeats from three games. As attentions turn to their co-hosting efforts in 2026, the Canadian men’s national team needs to learn from what happened in Qatar, and the first question that needs to be asked is whether the showing in 2022 was a performance befitting a squad with genuine ambitions to make an impact in the future. Did the team underachieve in its first World Cup appearance in 36 years?

Things could have been so different – or could they?

Within the first ten minutes of its opening game at this past World Cup, the team had a golden chance to take the lead against 2018’s bronze medallist Belgium. Awarded a penalty after putting their opponent on the backfield, here was the chance to score the nation’s first-ever World Cup goal – but Alphonso Davies’ penalty was weak and saved by Thibault Courtois. Canada fired off 22 shots in that encounter, but only three were on target, and Michy Batshuayi’s breakaway goal was enough to give Belgium a 1-0 win. It’s hard not to feel that had the penalty gone in, the confidence earned might have given the team something to build on, but as we’ll see, maybe that’s a fanciful thought.

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Croatia were still world-class

In the second game against Croatia, the team did what it couldn’t against Belgium, and grabbed that much-coveted goal, and it came within the first two minutes, Davies taking the chance that came his way. However, far from rocking the opposition back on its heels, going behind seemed merely to anger the 2018 finalists. Croatia’s reply was to score four goals and emerge comfortable winners, with the greatest lesson for Canada being that experience counts at this level. Enthusiasm is priceless, but the ability to play like you belong is more vital, and Croatia have honed that ability like few other nations.

There was a surprise package in Group F, and it wasn’t us

It’s risky to underestimate an outsider at a World Cup, as Argentina found in their opening game against Saudi Arabia. In Canada’s group, there was further proof of this fact as Belgium suffered group-stage elimination, but sadly not at the hands of Canada. Morocco, whose presence in the group was an afterthought for many, ended up winning it and then knocking out Spain and Portugal on the way to the semi-finals – the first time an African nation has ever got that far. Morocco did not create more chances than Canada, they just showed greater instinct when it came to taking them. They rose to the occasion where Canada seemed to be overwhelmed; hopefully by 2026 it’ll be a different story.

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