With one game remaining, Canada is still chasing history at the World Cup. But a motivated Morocco stands in its way of a first-ever positive result at the men’s football exhibition on Thursday.
For coach John Herdman, the 41st-ranked Canadian ticked one box in a “fearless” performance in their tournament opener, pushing No. 2 Belgium to the limit in a 1-0 defeat. And Alphonso Davies’ goal 68 seconds into the game against No. 12 Croatia ended Canada’s scoring drought at the tournament, albeit in a 4-1 loss.
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Many other targets remain in what will be the Canadians’ last World Cup outing until 2026, when Canada co-hosts an expanded 48-team tournament.
Herdman listed them down Wednesday: first team to keep a clean sheet, first to get a result, first to win.
“We missed the first team to progress from a World Cup group stage, but we haven’t been here for 36 years,” Herdman said at the pre-match news conference. “You play Belgium, Croatia. The first time you’ve played top, top teams in over a decade and it’s on the world stage to get out of a group stage.
“We believe those goals are still achievable.”
Herdman showed players and staff video on Tuesday of fans at home celebrating Davies’ historic goal Sunday as the 22-year-old from Edmonton joined Helen Stoumbos in the Canada Soccer record book. Stoumbos scored Canada’s first goal at the Women’s World Cup in the 87th minute of a 3-2 loss to England in June 1995.
For the Canada coach, the Davies goal is a moment to remember – and inspire.
“They saw what we really came here for, which was to give Canada that moment,” Herdman said of his players, referring to the celebrations at home. “And to be proud, to be proud of such moments. Because there is more to come.”
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Canada has lost three straight and went home in its only other trip to the tournament, in Mexico in 1986.
“We’ve made a big step here,” Herdman said to praise from Belgium assistant coach Thierry Henry after the opening game.
Herdman said Henry, a former star forward who coached Montreal’s MLS team, said the Belgians should have lost the game. The Canada coach also noted the look on the faces of the Croatian players celebrating their win for Canada.
“That’s what we came (here) to do, to try to compete against the best in the world. And I think we’re putting our best foot forward to compete,” he said.
“We had great moments against Belgium and Croatia – footballing moments that our country can be proud of,” he added.
Morocco, ranked 22nd in the world, can still extend its World Cup moment.
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“Our players want to make history and they are going to give 110 percent to ensure that the Moroccan population is happy,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said through an interpreter.
He knows that a draw at the 44,400-capacity Al Thumama Stadium will be enough to see Morocco finish as runners-up in Group F, as will a Belgium defeat to Croatia in the group’s other final, while a win could see it finish on top of the pool. .
“What we want is to actually be masters of our destiny without calculating, to rely on other teams’ results,” said Regragui.
The Moroccans currently sit second in the group, behind Croatia on goal difference with both teams at 1-0-1. Belgium are third with three points at 1-1-0 with Canada yet to register a point at 0-2-0.
After starting the tournament on a high, albeit in defeat, the Canadians look Thursday to reinforce the message that they belong on the world stage.
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“Everybody wants to make this last game history,” Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. “That’s what we’re focused on. We had a good performance in the first two games. But I think in football people always remember the last game you played the most and that’s why we’re looking forward to finishing this tournament on a high.”
Regragui calls it a very difficult game against “a team that has nothing to lose.”
Regragui, who answered questions in French, Arabic and English, was treated like a rock star at the earlier Morocco news conference, signing T-shirts and posing for selfies.
But his feet clearly remain on the ground
“Everything is going well,” he said. “Let’s see if I will still be a good coach (Thursday).”
The Atlas Lions are looking to repeat their success of 1986 when they became the first African team to reach the knockout round – losing 1-0 to eventual runners-up West Germany after topping a group that included England, Poland and Portugal included.
Morocco failed to progress in Russia four years ago, losing to Iran and Portugal and tied Spain.
Morocco opened its campaign here by holding Croatia to a 0-0 draw before upsetting Belgium 2-0 for just its third win in 18 career matches (3-9-6) at the World Cup.
Thursday is Canada’s first ever World Cup game against a non-European team.
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Herdman said he had one injury problem in midfield, without identifying the player. Stephen Eustaquio had to leave the Croatia game at half-time due to a hamstring injury.
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