This afternoon Canada learned their fate.
The Canadian men’s national team were drawn into Group F alongside Belgium, Morocco, and Croatia for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in November.
Canada’s ball was the last to be pulled from Pot 4, but as soon as the final ball from Pot 3 was selected, the possibilities began to become clear and the mind was set racing.
“Watching the draw was an incredible experience,” said Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio on a conference call shortly thereafter. “None of us has gone through that, waiting for your team to get drawn out. Just an incredible moment for the whole country, for everybody involved in the program.”
“It was a little bit of a nail biter because we were the very last team, but nonetheless it’s just exciting,” he continued. “We're playing against three very, very strong teams. It's not an easy road at all, but going into a World Cup you don’t expect to get put in an easy group, that's not what we want anyways. I think we're all happy as Canadians, this is a very proud day for us.”
Canada will face Belgium in their opening match on November 23, Croatia on November 27, and round out the group stage against Morocco on December 1.
Canada has not faced Belgium since 1989 – a 2-0 loss in Ottawa, and has never squared off against Croatia, but met Morocco relatively recently, losing 4-0 in 2016 in Marrakesh.
Osorio was on the pitch that day.
“I've played against them one time in Morocco. It was a good experience,” he recalled. “At the time, [Canada] was going through a transition, so we didn't have the best of results there and they have a really good team. That's going to be a tough game along with Belgium and Croatia. They're all tough teams. We're looking forward to it.”
As for going up against Belgium and Croatia, the 2nd and 16th placed sides in the latest FIFA Rankings, Osorio is relishing the challenge.
The TFC midfielder and his teammates will be squaring off against two of the premier players in that position: Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.
“A dream, it's a dream. Two midfielders that I admire, the two midfielders that I admire the most in the whole world,” said Osorio. “I was a fan of Real Madrid growing up as a kid and so to play against Modrić is a dream.”
“This is what you dream of as a player, as a person,” he continued. “As a footballer, you want to play against the best and we're playing against the best midfielders in the world in Belgium and Croatia – Morocco has phenomenal midfielders as well.”
“It's a great opportunity for the team to show and step up against incredible teams and to really challenge ourselves,” Osorio highlighted. “We want to challenge ourselves against the best and we have that opportunity here. It's going to be an amazing experience.”
A little more than a year ago Canada began this journey in an empty Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida, beating Bermuda 5-1 in a home match.
19 matches later they are going to the World Cup.
“Just pure joy, really, pure joy and just proud to even be a part of such an amazing journey and a part of history with the group of people that we have,” reflected Osorio. “It’s a blessing. Truly grateful. Truly amazing. Proud to be Canadian.”
“We wanted to win that game in Panama, but when we found out that we topped Concacaf, achieving all of our objectives from the beginning, which only us within believed in – from the outside it was very hard for people to believe, with good reason – but within we always believed that we'd qualify,” he continued. “And now it just gives us this belief that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to.”
Asked about people writing off Canada’s chances as soon as the draw concluded, Osorio had a reminder: “I think the funny part about that is that before qualifying started, people weren't really giving Canada that much chance to qualify for the World Cup. They're saying, ‘Maybe Canada has a chance to fight for fourth.’”
“But we finished first,” he added. “We proved people wrong in that way. Why not prove people wrong again?”