Canada failed to score in their only World Cup appearance in 1986; A young team is hoping to change that in Qatar.
Montreal Canada – All Canada needs to make history in Qatar is one destination.
This is the second time the Canada men’s national soccer team has reached the sport’s biggest event after their first and only appearance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
However, in the opening round of that tournament 36 years ago, the side failed to score in their three games – all defeats – paving the way for what could be a historic moment at Qatar 2022.
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“The first breakthrough in 1986 was probably far from glorious,” said Alan McDougall, history professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario and author of Contested Fields: A Global History of Modern Football.
“But Canada’s football has come a long way since then and I think there is good reason to be optimistic that the 2022 team will do better than their 1986 predecessor,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There is no doubt that the 2022 team has a chance to rewrite some historic mistakes.”
Canada faces a first gigantic hurdle on Wednesday when they take on Belgium – number two in the world – in their first game of the competition at the Al Rayyan Stadium.
The two countries have only met once before, Belgium winning 2-0 in an international friendly in Ottawa in 1989.
This time around, the 41st-placed Canadian side are banking on a boost from Alphonso Davies, their 22-year-old superstar who recently picked up a hamstring injury while playing with Bundesliga club Bayern Munich.
Davies told Canadian broadcaster TSN on Sunday that it was “devastating” for the team and himself to be injured just weeks before the start of the World Cup, “but thankfully it wasn’t a major injury,” and he expects it , to be at field against Belgium.
“I think I can start the first game and play the first game,” said the winger. “They wouldn’t put me on the court if it was 50/50.”
Les Jones, former chairman of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, said Canada’s motto is “Fear nothing and it has proven appropriate in the past because they have beaten teams they didn’t expect to beat”.
According to Jones, by reaching the 2022 World Cup Canada has “already exceeded all expectations”. Now the focus is on success in the group stage, where Canada not only meet Belgium but also Croatia and Morocco.
“Some hope for a goal, some for a point, some for a win,” Jones said. “But I think [coach] John Herdman and the team are aiming to qualify for the knockout stages, the next step in the competition.
Jones sees reason for optimism given the surprise surprises at the World Cup so far. “If you look at yourself [Tuesday’s] After the results, the underdogs are doing well: Saudi Arabia beat Argentina and Tunisia managed to draw against Denmark,” he told Al Jazeera.
Even at the 1986 World Cup, Canada did better than predicted, keeping the game against France scoreless until the 78th minute, Jones said. Les Bleus eventually won 1-0.
“There were a lot of people who were expecting [France] to score double digits,” Jones explained. “So we’ve surprised before and hopefully we can surprise again.”
Meanwhile, most pundits say the odds of Canada scoring that elusive first World Cup goal are high.