1. Canada face Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in Group F
  2. We look at how John Herdman plans to see them thrive
  3. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David will be key

John Herman is playing casino with the chips of an entire nation. Would he accept Canada, after 36 years in the FIFA World Cup™ wilderness, scoring their first goal and seizing their first-ever result in the competition on the Arabian Peninsula?

Hell, no. The 47-year-old, despite seeing his side locked in a first-phase cage with the silver- and bronze-medallists from Russia 2018, insists the Canucks’ target is to reach the knockout phase.

“When Belgium and Croatia came out of the hat, we were just rubbing our hands, saying, ‘This is going to be an amazing experience’,” Herdman recently told FIFA+. ”We want to create a freedom and have them go in against the De Bruynes, Lukakus, Modrics and relish that chance of pushing their limits against these immortals of the game. As coach, I know that I’ll either be a hero or a zero.”

Canada’s Group F fixtures

23 November Belgium vs Canada (22:00 local time, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium)

27 November Croatia vs Canada (19:00 local time, Khalifa International Stadium)

1 December Canada vs Morocco (18:00 local time, Al Thumama Stadium)

Herdman’s approach and tactics

The 47-year-old has experimented with different formations but, if Canada’s last two friendlies are something to go on, seems to have settled on a 3-4-1-2, with Davies in a free role behind David in Larin. The system is dependent on two holding midfielders working tirelessly to protect the defence and enabling the wingbacks to support the front three.

Canada’s counter-attacking is a key component in their game, while Herdman stressed that he wants “the players to play with freedom”.

Key player: Alphonso Davies

The call him ‘Road Runner’. He’s a human thunderbolt who intoxicates spectators and terrifies opponents in equal measure. Herdman is adamant ‘Little Canada’ have a player who would not just get into, but “walk into” any of the biggest teams on the planet.

Still just 21, Davies is already the most decorated footballer in Canadian history. Labelled a “phenomenon” by Bayern Munich team-mate Thomas Muller, he operates at left-wingback at club level but is deployed further north – “where he can hurt people most” – by Herdman.

One to watch: Jonathan David

Focus exclusively on Davies at one’s peril. Christophe Galtier described his former Lille pupil as “one of the most difficult players to mark I have seen”, and if you can’t keep up with the jet-heeled forward, you’re in trouble. The 22-year-old has scored prolifically for Les Dogues since joining them in 2020, and has hit 22 goals in 34 internationals.

David’s telepathy with Davies also decrypts defences. Can ‘The Iceman’ melt some long-standing backlines in Qatar?

Canada’s World Cup history

Mexico 1986 was the Canucks’ one and only World Cup. Admirably, they gave reigning European champions France a strict examination in their opener, a 1-0 loss courtesy of a late Jean-Pierre Papin goal, before back-to-back 2-0 defeats to Hungary and Soviet Union.

Canada hadn’t come close to qualifying for the global finals again until John Herdman’s charges won the Concacaf Octagonal to reach Qatar 2022 in style.

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