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The rising underdog: Why Canadian soccer fans have much to be proud of 

By Nazeefa Ahmed, December 16 2022

On November 27, the first Canadian goal in Men’s FIFA history was scored at the World Cup by left-back Alphonso Davies in the first half of the game against Croatia. After failing to score a goal against Belgium in the first game, the 68-second goal made it seem, for a fleeting moment, that Canada could possibly claim victory against Croatia. The underdog arc could then be complete, even if we never made it to the semi-finals. 

Unfortunately, the 2018 finalist scored 4 goals at Canada’s expense, and morale tumbled soon after. The previous silent victory against Belgium seemed far away after Croatia’s unabashed dominance and multi-pronged forward attacks. 

While Canada has sadly been eliminated from the knockout stage, fans have much to be proud of. Here is a reminder of some historic leaps in men’s and women’s soccer since Canada’s last World Cup in 1986.  

Fastest-growing sport in Canada 

Canada Soccer points to the nearly 1 000 000 registered soccer players among 1200 clubs in 13 provinces and territories. Though hockey is the official national sport, the price of equipment and facilities creates a barrier to access for many, and soccer could fill that gap. The influx of immigrants to Canada from soccer-loving nations also brought a new spirit to the sport and a passionate generation of players dominated our school and league fields. Alberta’s very own Alphonso Davies is a first-generation Algerian immigrant whose skill and ambition got him noticed at 10 years old and made him the second youngest Major League Soccer player at 16. The 2022 World Cup will only draw more talent to the sport and create a stronger foundation of players for future qualifying matches. 

2000’s Concacaf Win

Canada shocked the soccer world after winning their first Gold Cup at the 2000 Concacaf tournament. Canada beat non-Concacaf team Columbia in the final round and reigning champion Mexico in the semi-finals. This was the first real win for the men’s team and set the tone for future gameplay.

Trail-blazing Coach John Herdman

A team is only as strong as its coach, and Herdman has raised the bar exponentially. The Englishman was hired by Soccer Canada in 2011 after the Women’s team finished last in the World Cup held in Germany. Within a month after being hired, Herdman led the women’s team to gold at the Pan American Games. Following this, the star-studded team, with bright players such as Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi, won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, and gold in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.   

Herdman was chosen to coach the men’s team over the highly-experienced Octavio Zambrano in 2017. Despite never having coached a men’s team, and despite Canada’s absence from the World Cup since 1986, Herdman boldly claimed that he would take the men’s team to the 2022 World Cup. 

“We’re going to qualify for 2022 Qatar, and lay the foundation for 2026,” he predicted in February 2019. 

And they did. In the final goal to Jamaica on a dreary morning in Lake Ontario, history was made. Players credit Herdman for both his motivational attitude and meticulous game plan. 

“Ever since John took over, he’s been focused on changing the identity of Canadian soccer,” said defender Kamal Miller. “And step by step, every camp, we’ve just been getting better and better. We feel like we’re reaching new heights.”

Canada was ranked 79th in 2019 and proceeded to qualify for the largest sporting stage in the world within a couple of years of training — this is no easy feat. It is a true underdog tale without the ideal ending just yet — being a powerhouse team like France will take more time, money, and resources. If Canada’s team analyzes their gameplay, works on their defensive lineup, and keeps emotion out of gameplay and conduct, we can expect to see major improvements in 2026. 

Regardless of the losses, Canada’s journey to the World Cup gave Canadians something tangible to root for together for the first time since 1986. All worldly qualms were put to rest for 90 minutes while Canadians crowded around work laptops and TV screens, proud of their men for making it.  

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