Canada will play their final match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Thursday when they face off against Morocco.
Both matches to close Group F will kick off simultaneously at 10 am ET with Croatia and Belgium meeting in the other.
With losses in the previous two matches – 1-0 against Belgium and 4-1 to Croatia, two of the four semi-finalists from 2018 – Canada cannot move on to the knockout round, but for the other three sides it’s all to play for: Croatia and Morocco are level on four points and Belgium sits on three.
Canada’s approach to this competition, back on the men’s stage for the first time since 1986, has garnered worldwide attention. They may be going home sooner than they would have liked, but that doesn’t change a thing.
“Tomorrow is a real opportunity for our players, for our country, to keep stepping forward,” said John Herdman in Canada’s matchday-1 press conference early Wednesday morning. “Football people have been waiting for Canada to arrive, were wondering how we were going to show up and I think we showed up on the front foot, so that'll be our approach again.”
“We'll stay committed to our identity and we'll go into this match with an opportunity to make some more history,” he continued. “We took some big steps together, we've been enjoying the ride the last couple of days, we know there's not long left. The players are excited to go and play for their families, for the fans in the stadium, and to try and have one of those moments.”
Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.
“We have an opportunity here to send our message to our people back in Canada, to the youth, to those [coming] generations,” said defender Steven Vitória. “This group has done a fantastic job doing that and we have an opportunity tomorrow to continue.”
“It's been a special learning experience, one that we definitely don't take for granted in how we performed, the courage that we showed over these first few games,” he added. “It's a lot to be proud of.”
Morocco too have turned heads.
They battled Croatia to a scoreless draw in their opener and then dispatched Belgium 2-0 to put themselves in contention to advance.
“It will be a very good game,” anticipated Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio on Tuesday. “It's no secret we’re chasing history. This group has been reaching history throughout this journey. There’s a lot of records that have been broken.”
“And we’ll keep going on that journey,” he continued. “We're looking for that first win and we know what's at stake, we know Morocco is in the fight still and they’ll be putting everything into this game to move on to the next round. It's going to be a really good game.”
Highlighted Vitória: “We know we're going to have another tough test.”
“It's what this World Cup is about,” continued the Mississauga, Ontario product. “A really good Moroccan team, but we're looking forward to it. We set goals that we want to achieve and we're looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity we have tomorrow”
Herdman highlighted the three stars that have driven the Atlas Lions in Qatar.
“That Moroccan team is a real solid team,” he cautioned. “The partnership of [Hakim] Ziyech and [Achraf] Hakimi is just next level. It's their center of gravity and every team in the world is going to struggle with what they've created there. It's not an easy fix tactically, it's real collective defending, you need to consider that.”
“And then [Noussair] Mazraoui on the opposite side, cutting in on his right foot to then find them on the opposite side, it is a challenge,” Herdman continued. “Morocco are a very good team, very underrated coming into this World Cup. Those partnerships are what we've got to really pay attention to from a defending perspective and then maybe capitalize on the moments that they might present us.”
Canada go in with the experience garnered in the last two outings.
“We learned some lessons over the first two games,” said Vitória. “We know every game is different, but we also are very clear with our identity.”
“We’re going to have another test tomorrow against a fantastic team that is going to fight for everything, but our World Cup is not finished,” he reminded. “We're going to show up tomorrow with our goals very clear, respecting Morocco, but also respecting what we want to get out of the game.”
Already on four points Morocco could choose to rely on Croatia beating a limping Belgium to see them through. Their coach, Walid Regragui, cautioned against taking the foot off the gas.
“We’re always there to win, it would be a mistake if we go in with a different mindset,” he said through a translator. “The Canadians want to make their own history. For me, it's one of the best squads in this championship.”
“They were intense, very great players, and they're not going to make it easy on us,” he continued. “There is nothing to lose for them, so we have to be smart in managing this game so we can move forward. This is the most important part for me.”
With this being the first World Cup held in the Arabic-speaking world, Middle Eastern and North African sides have enjoyed raucous support.
Canada expects the same at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Thursday.
They’re looking forward to it.
“We talked about that today,” replied Herdman. “Jonathan Osorio, in our leadership meeting, had a real strong statement: ‘It’s just what we wanted.’”
“We came to a World Cup for these moments,” he continued. “No one can say it was a nothing game. We want these moments to be big and meaningful. And we know that Moroccan fans are going to show up, they're brilliant, so we'll enjoy that atmosphere.”
“We’re used to it in Concacaf – usually it’s 70,000 Mexicans in the Gold Cup or whatever – it'll be an exciting experience, but there will be some Canadians there as well, that's for sure,” Herdman added. “Our fans have been absolutely immense in this World Cup. That game against Belgium we thought we were the home team and they stayed with us right until the end in the Croatia game.”