Not just happy to be going to Qatar, Canada aims to compete

April 1, 2022 GMT
Serbian-Mexican retired soccer manager Bora Milutinovic holds up the name of Canada as he assists in the 2022 soccer World Cup draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Serbian-Mexican retired soccer manager Bora Milutinovic holds up the name of Canada as he assists in the 2022 soccer World Cup draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Serbian-Mexican retired soccer manager Bora Milutinovic holds up the name of Canada as he assists in the 2022 soccer World Cup draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
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Serbian-Mexican retired soccer manager Bora Milutinovic holds up the name of Canada as he assists in the 2022 soccer World Cup draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
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Serbian-Mexican retired soccer manager Bora Milutinovic holds up the name of Canada as he assists in the 2022 soccer World Cup draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar, Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Canada isn’t satisfied with simply making the field for Qatar, although that in itself was an impressive accomplishment.

The Canadian national team is approaching the World Cup as an opportunity to show just how far the country has come since it last appeared in soccer’s premier tournament in 1986.

Canada landed in Group F for the opening stage, along with Belgium, Morocco and Croatia. Canada will face Belgium in its opener on Nov. 23.

“Just to see that this is real, Canada is on the big stage now,” coach John Herdman said after watching Friday’s World Cup draw. “We’re not just heading to Qatar, we’re ready to play in Qatar where we know the teams we’ve got. We’ve got a wonderful opportunity ahead of us.”

With a star-studded roster that includes Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, Belgium is ranked No. 2 in the world. Croatia, at No. 16, played in the final in Russia but fell to France for the trophy. Morocco is No. 24. Canada is the lowest-ranked team of the group at No. 38.

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“We want that underdog story,” Herdman said. “I think we’ll be at our best when we rely on our grit, our spirit. Then to bring that no fear mentality, that opportunity that exists in those type of games against the best players in the world.”

Canada’s only prior trip to the World Cup was 36 years ago. The Canadians lost to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union by a combined 5-0 at the tournament in Mexico.

“Proud to even be a part of such an amazing journey, and part of history with the group of people that I’m proud to be a part of,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “It’s a blessing, it’s honestly a blessing.”

The team has been on the upswing since Herdman took over in 2018, vowing there would be a “New Canada” that would upset the status quo. Canada was ranked No. 95 at the time.

Canada proved its mettle during qualifying and finished atop the standings in the North and Central America and Caribbean region for an automatic bid, along with Mexico and the United States. CONCACAF’s fourth-place finisher, Costa Rica, will play New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff in June for for a spot.

Herdman is the first coach ever to lead both a men’s and a women’s team to a World Cup berth. He coached the Canadian women’s team from 2011-18, leading the team to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals.

“Now looking forward, it just gives us belief that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to,” Osorio said. “Going to this World Cup, I know people from the outside see our group, and don’t give us the chances. But us within the team and the group, we can accomplish anything that we set our minds to.”

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