Coach repeats 1986 formula and internationalizes Canada team in return to World Cup


In 2018, when he took over Canada’s men’s team, coach John Herdman was one of the few to believe in the possibility of qualifying the country for the World Cup in Qatar.

With a single World Cup appearance in Mexico in 1986, the nation that returned home after losing all three of its games failed to cultivate much hope after that.

But it was precisely with videos of this campaign, including the trajectory in the Qualifiers, that the Englishman started the work of convincing not only the players but the whole country that it was possible to return to the Cup.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said on Sunday (27), in front of packed stands at Toronto’s BMO Field stadium, where Canada won 4-0 over Jamaica to seal their spot for this year’s World Cup. “I’ve been preaching this belief, but when it finally happens, I’m speechless.”

Printed on the shirts worn by the players after the duel, a small phrase sums up the feeling he helped to arouse: “We can”.

The English coach was just ten years old when Canada played in the World Cup in 1986. At the time, he lived in Consett, a city next to his favorite team, Newcastle United, in England.

More than three decades later, it was with Canadians that he built a relationship of idolatry. Before the feat by the men’s team, the technical scholar had already led the Canadian women’s team to the conquest of two consecutive bronze medals in the Olympics (London-2012 and Rio-2016), in addition to a gold in the 2011 Pan American Games, in Mexico, defeating Brazil in the decision.

Success with women served as inspiration for working with men, but Herdman also used part of the formula that had taken the Canadians to the World Cup in Mexico, betting on an international team.

Players born in six different countries naturalized Canadians, in addition to 22 who hold dual nationality, were part of the squad that won the spot in the Concacaf Qualifiers dispute, which covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Three countries go straight to Qatar — the United States and Mexico, second and third in the current rankings, respectively, are close to claiming the other two spots. Costa Rica, in fourth, should play the repechage against the champion of Oceania.

As Canada will host the 2026 World Cup along with the United States and Mexico, the country guarantees two consecutive participations. It is an important achievement to develop football in the country.

“We are a football country, that’s all we ever wanted,” said the English coach.

His goal is to leave a legacy greater than the classification itself. The idea is that, in the future, it will not depend on the formula already used in 1986, when Canada had athletes born in nine different countries, naturalized Canadians, in addition to 14 with dual nationality.

In the current cast, the weight of migrants is undeniable. The team’s biggest name is left-back Alphonso Davies, 21. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana to parents fleeing the civil war in Liberia, he moved to Canada at the age of five.

On Sunday, Davies cried during an internet broadcast as he watched the victory over Jamaica. He is still recovering from an inflammation of the heart, diagnosed after he had Covid-19, and has not acted since December. A week ago, he returned to training at the German club and should play in the Cup.

The trajectory of the leader of the Concacaf Qualifiers also had other pillars. Son of Jamaican parents, striker Cyle Larin, 26, scored 13 goals in the dispute and is the team’s top scorer. It was the player for Besiktas, from Turkey, who paved the way to victory over the country where his family was born.

In the list of top scorers in the squad, he is closely followed by Jonathan David, 22. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in the United States, he moved as a baby with his family to Haiti, where his parents were born. When the striker turned six, they moved again, this time to Canada.

As an adult, he was even invited to defend the North American team, but preferred the Canadian team. “Canada gave me a good life and made me the man I am today,” said the player from Lille, France, for whom he scored 13 goals in the national league. In the Playoffs, he hit the net nine times.

The fact that the trio formed by Aphonso Davies, Cyle Larin and Jonathan David play in European football is another factor that helps to explain the success of the current generation that defends Canada.

In John Herdman’s most recent call-up for the Playoffs, 15 of the 25 players called up play in Europe. Another four play in the United States, and only six are from clubs in Canada.

The experience of this group formed a squad with more confidence to fight for the spot in the Cup and make a historic campaign. “And we’re just getting started”, warned the coach, looking forward to the start of the World Cup.

Before, it will end its participation in the Qualifiers this Wednesday (30), against Panama, in a game in which Canada only needs a draw to seal the best campaign of the dispute in Concacaf.

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