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Against Croatia, Canadian men look to turn performance into points at World Cup

Coach John Herdman says Canada achieved two goals in its 1-0 loss to Belgium on Wednesday, a result that did not reflect the balance of play on the pitch.  Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (1) makes a save on a penalty kick from Canada forward Alphonso Davies (19) during first half Group F World Cup soccer action at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

UMM ŞALĀL ‘ALĪ, Qatar — Coach John Herdman says Canada achieved two of its objectives in Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Belgium, a result that earned the Canadian men plenty of praise but no precious World Cup points.

Canada wanted to be fearless and to entertain in their return to the soccer showcase after a 36-year absence.

"That was a commitment from this group … We achieved a performance that we're proud of," Herdman said Thursday.

Now Canada must play for its World Cup future, knowing a loss Sunday against No. 12 Croatia will end any chance of advancing past the first round. 

Croatia will up its points total to four if it can dispatch Canada. And no matter happens in the Belgium-Morocco game in the Sunday's other Group F matchup, one of those teams will also finish the day with four points. A loss Sunday and the Canadians can finish with no more than three points.

Canada's final group game is Dec. 1 against Morocco.

Herdman noted that his players left it all on the line against Belgium.

"They broke personal-best records in their physical performance. I mean that was guys pushing genuine PBs," he said. "It was actually quite special what we saw in terms of the high-intensity running and total kilometres. And then they've got to go do it again."

Herdman says "statistically" the Belgium outing was a "winning performance," as was a 2-0 loss to No. 14 Uruguay in a tournament warmup last month.

"It's those behaviours that we'll continue to work on. That's what the players see in the review meeting today," said Herdman. "And we've got to close some gaps going into this meeting with Croatia, who are a hell of a team."

While Herdman tried to take a glass-half full look at a contest that saw Canada launch 21 attempts on goal but put only three on target, including an 11th-minute Alphonso Davies penalty that was saved by Belgian 'keeper Thibaut Courtois, the coach acknowledged feeling a swirl of emotions right at the final whistle.

"I was a bit angry. That was the passion at the end of the game when I brought the lads into the huddle. It was like that pride but also frustration — deep frustration that we let three points slip through our fingers that game," Herdman said.

While he said Canadians in attendance left "feeling probably real pride in being a football fan of Canadian soccer," the performance failed in another way.

"At the same time we're here to progress through the group stage," he added. "We keep seeing we can see the (World Cup) final (Lusail) stadium right from our hotel. We're like this close to it. We had to take three points (Wednesday)."

Herdman's wife and two kids were at the game, sitting two rows back of the Canadian bench.

"I remember turning to (my son) when Stephen Eustaquio nutmegged (Kevin) De Bruyne. The two of us were looking at each other in awe," Herdman said. 

He was able to spend an hour to 90 minutes with the family. But he said sleep did not come easy. "We were pretty wired."

The Canadian starters had a light day at a lunchtime session Thursday under bright sunshine, with the temperature at 29 degrees Celsius, at their training session north of Doha. Wednesday's substitutes and non-starters had a more active workout.

"Recovery is what this is about," said Herdman. "A real mental regeneration and physical regeneration to be able to just go and put it all out there against Croatia."

Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson can win his 100th cap Sunday, adding to his national men's record. 


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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