Canada's World Cup Team: "No Fear"
Canadian Men's World Cup Team Coach John Herdman preaches "no fear" as group draws are announced
It's a tough draw, but it also could have been worse.
That's the general consensus among Canadian soccer fans following last week's official draw in Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Canada will play in Group F alongside Belgium, Croatia and Morocco.
Canadian head coach John Herdman was all smiles when speaking to reporters in Toronto, calling it a "surreal moment" when his team was picked last of the 32 nations that will compete in Qatar, this coming November.
READ MORE: Canada to face Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in group stage at World Cup in Qatar
"I don't know how many years people probably in this country had to endure a [World Cup] draw and be ready to support their secondary team," Herdman said. "To have our team pulled out [of a pot] and just to see that this is real, Canada is on the big stage now.
"And we're not just heading to Qatar. We're ready to play in Qatar and where we know the teams we've got. We have a wonderful opportunity ahead of us."
A Scouting Report: Analyzing Canada's 2022 World Cup Opponents (original source SN)
FIFA Ranking: No. 2
Odds to win World Cup: 13/1
How they qualified: Won Group E of UEFA qualifying with 20 points.
Predicted starting XI (3-4-3): Thibaut Courtois; Timothy Castagne, Jason Denayer, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, Yannick Carrasco; Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne.
The attack. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku might not be in top form at the moment, but they are usually excellent with the national team. Plus, Kevin De Bruyne is always a threat, whether he's in front of a double pivot or drifting inside from the right into that half-space that he loves so much.
But the blueprint for Canada to negate that attacking rhythm can be found in Belgium's Euro 2020 quarterfinal loss to Italy. When the Azzurri pressed Belgium off goal kicks, the Italian forwards marked the defenders while the trio focused on the Belgian midfielders. That disrupted some of the buildup.
Obviously Canada can't press Belgium for 90 minutes, so they will likely utilize another strategy for the majority of the game. Italy sat back in a 4-5-1, which negated the pivot's abilities and protected the flanks against the marauding wingbacks.
That can be a strategy to silence Belgium, which will be easier said than done, of course.
The defence could be in limbo. Jason Denayer and Timothy Castagne appear to be locked in, but Jan Vertonghen is slowing down and coach Roberto Martinez has experimented with youngsters Arthur Theate and Siebe Van der Heyden on the left side of the back three. Whatever the case, there will be spaces to exploit for Canada's speedy attack, especially with Belgium's attack-minded wingbacks.
Belgium reached the World Cup semifinals in 2018 and was on the brink of another semi at last summer's Euros if not for wasteful finishing against Italy in the quarters.
But it's now or never for the Red Devils. The golden generation is in its primes, so failure to reach a final will be viewed as a lost opportunity for this group.
FIFA Ranking: No. 16
Odds to win World Cup: 51/1
How they qualified: Won Group H of UEFA qualifying with 23 points.
Predicted starting XI (3-5-2): Dominik Livakovic; Duje Caleta-Car, Someone, Josko Gvardiol; Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mario Pasalic, Josip Juranovic; Nikola Vlasic, Andrej Kramaric.
It's the midfield, hands down. Even at 36 years old, Luka Modric continues to excel on the big stage. He's had man-of-the-match performances for Real Madrid in 2022, though the question is whether he'll keep this up by November.
Then there's Marcelo Brozovic, arguably Inter's most important player. His ability to drop between the defence and orchestrate games while contributing defensively makes him one of the top deep-lying midfielders in Europe.
Mario Pasalic is the current starter, and while he's no slouch, Mateo Kovacic's inclusion would transform an already talented trio. Kovacic is all-action but is excellent at progressing the ball into the box via dribbling or passes and is a defensive stalwart to boot.
The forwards aren't prolific. Whether it's Andrej Kramaric, Nikola Vlasic or any other option, they won't be too threatening.
Anyone who watched Croatia's thrilling Euro 2020 round-of-16 matchup against Spain might think otherwise. The game finished 5-3 after extra time.
Part of this was down to Croatia's high press being so easy to bypass. The other was Spain neglecting the flanks whenever the Croatians did press. That led to a litany of chances, specifically down the flanks with Spain's full-backs playing so high up the pitch.
If Canada can be less liberal on the flanks when getting pressed, and remain compact defensively, then it should reduce Croatia's high-danger chances.
There are some quality youngsters coming through but for Perisic, Modric and potentially Brozovic – at least in his prime – this will be the final kick at the can.
It's not expected that Croatia will make it to another World Cup final, although a run to the quarterfinals isn't out of the question, especially with that midfield holding down the fort.
FIFA Ranking: No. 24
Odds to win World Cup: 248-1
How they qualified: Defeated DR Congo 5-2 on aggregate in the third round of CAF qualifying.
Predicted starting XI (4-3-3): Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, Adam Masina; Selim Amallah, Sofyan Amrabat, Aymen Barkok; Munir El Haddadi, Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal.
Achraf Hakimi and Munir El Haddadi versus Sam Adekugbe and Alphonso Davies could be appointment viewing.
Morocco's right flank boasts one of the best right-backs in the world in Hakimi and the dynamic Munir, who plies his trade with Sevilla. In the previous round of qualifying, coach Vahid Halihodzic switched to a 3-5-2 to further highlight those strengths and that's where a significant portion of its open-play attacks were generated.
When analyzing the pass maps from those two legs, it's evident how much more proactive Hakimi (No. 2) became in those games, even for his standard.
If Canada's left side is the main threat, then the Atlas Lions' right flank will be equally dangerous.
There aren't a lot of weaknesses, even though Morocco might not strike the average fan as being the most complete team in this group.
Morocco averaged 2.14 xG and 0.52 xG conceded over the last calendar year. Those are formidable stats when considering Canada posted 1.57 xG and 0.86 xG allowed during the final round of Concacaf qualifying.
However, the form of Youssef En-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi, both teammates at Sevilla, has declined. Munir barely plays, while En-Nesyri has scored just three goals in 15 games after a prolific 2020-21 season. His underlying numbers are still strong, but the production just hasn't been there and now Anthony Martial is starting ahead of En-Nesyri.
If that doesn't change, Tarik Tissoudali could be the go-to option for Morocco at the World Cup.
Morocco was in the group of death at the 2018 World Cup with Iran, Spain and Portugal. That spurned what could've been a solid run from the Atlas Lions.
Now they are in a more accessible group. For that reason, Morocco will be cautiously optimistic about progressing to the round of 16, just like Canada.
WE WILL HAVE MUCH MORE ABOUT THE WORLD CUP COMING UP!