Coach John Herdman says Canada achieved two of its goals in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Belgium, a result that earned the Canadian men plenty of plaudits but no precious World Cup points.
Canada wanted to be fearless and entertain in their return to the football exhibition after a 36-year absence.
“It was a commitment from this group. We achieved an achievement that we are proud of,” Herdman said on Thursday.
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Now Canada must play for its World Cup future, knowing that a loss Sunday against no. 12 Croatia will end any chance of progressing past the first round.
Croatia will increase its point total to four if it can dispatch Canada. And no matter what happens in the match between Belgium and Morocco in Sunday’s other Group F game, one of those teams will also end the day with four points. A defeat on Sunday and the Canadians could end up with no more than three points.
Canada’s final group game is December 1 against Morocco.
Herdman noted that his players left everything on the line against Belgium.
“They broke personal best records in their physical performance. I mean those were guys who were hitting genuine PBs,” he said.
“It was actually pretty special what we saw in terms of the high-intensity running and total mileage. And then they have to do it again.”
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Herdman says “statistically” the Belgium trip was a “winning performance”, as was a 2-0 loss to no. 14, Uruguay in a tournament warm-up last month.
“It is that behavior that we will continue to work on. That’s what the players are seeing today in the review meeting,” Herdman said. “And we have to close some gaps in this meeting with Croatia, who are a hell of a team.”
As Herdman tried to take a glass-half-full view of a contest in which Canada launched 21 attempts but put only three on target, including an 11th-minute Alphonso Davies penalty that was saved by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, the coach admits feeling a whirlwind of emotions right at the final whistle.
“I was a little angry. That was the passion at the end of the game when I brought the boys into the scramble. It was like that pride but also frustration – deep frustration that we let three points slip through our fingers that game,” Herdman said.
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While he said the Canadians in attendance “probably felt a real pride in being a soccer fan of Canadian soccer,” the performance failed in another way.
“At the same time, we are here to progress through the group stage,” he added. “We still see we can see the (World Cup) final (Lusail) stadium right from our hotel. We are so close to it. We had to take three points (Wednesday).”
Herdman’s wife and two children were at the game, two rows back on the Canadian bench.
“I remember turning to (my son) when Stephen Eustaquio (Kevin) De Bruyne made nutmeg. The two of us looked at each other in awe,” Herdman said.
He could spend an hour to 90 minutes with the family. But he said sleep didn’t come easily. “We were pretty wired.”
The Canadian novices had a light day during a lunchtime session on Thursday under bright sunshine, with the temperature at 29C, at their training session north of Doha. Wednesday’s substitutes and non-starters had a more active workout.
“Recovery is what it’s all about,” Herdman said. “A real mental rebirth and physical rebirth to just be able to go and put everything out there against Croatia.”
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