Canada's elimination from the FIFA World Cup in Qatar was confirmed at the hands of Croatia on matchday two, as they fought bravely and initially took the lead but ultimately straight losses meant they had nothing to play for come matchday three.
However, despite exiting as early as possible there were positive signs for the Canadians. In the opening game, they dominated a Belgium side that reached the semi-finals in 2018, and just experience was the difference as the Belgians took advantage of their only big opportunity.
Against Croatia, Canada again was in the game for a large period, but again they paid for being wasteful with their chances and were punished by their more experienced opponents.
Dangerous but lacking balance
Throughout their brief second appearance at the World Cup, they were extremely threatening in transition with the squad possessing an abundance of pace coupled with exceptional dribbling abilities. Their key letdown was likely the fact that they lack a quality core that is within the prime of their careers.
They have a wide range of profiles within the squad, young explosive attacking players and veteran technicians including Atiba Hutchinson, but very little in between. The results certainly do not tell the full story, as Canada controlled the tempo against a huge footballing nation in the form of Belgium. Before paying the price for being lacklustre in defensive transition for the Croatia turnaround on matchday two.
In the world of online betting, Belgium and Croatia are both seen as nations that could go all of the ways and were certainly always the favourites to make it out of the group. Following the Balkan nations' impressive performances at the tournament so far, many are predicting them to make another run as a slight dark horse. They are offered at 50/1 to go one further this time around and win after potentially reaching the final again. Sports betting is becoming increasingly popular in Canada especially as the national team grows stronger and stronger, as well as the ease with that bets can be placed now with several apps being available.
Road to 2026
Canada will now look towards the 2026 tournament which will be hosted by themselves, the United States and Mexico, of which they will be hoping to lead the CONCACAF section yet again. The Maple Leafs have young stars from the likes of Bayern Munich, LOSC Lille and FC Porto, and by the next World Cup cycle, these should be entering their primes and will have accumulated much more experience and know how to enable them to become leaders for their nation.
The likes of Hutchinson who is a huge leader at present will almost certainly retire following the Qatar World Cup and that will leave a gap to fill in terms of captain's armband duties. For Canada to be more disciplined and less erratic in their style of play, they will need to establish a regular core at the national team level. A four-year cycle of friendlies and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in which Qatar will again be a guest participant will allow them plenty of time to build a squad capable of going far in their home World Cup. They can avoid the stress of World Cup qualification as they will be given an automatic spot due to the host nation's rights.
With many of Canada's stars playing for top European clubs, they will continue to win different leagues and trophies around the continent until the next World Cup arrives, and by 2026 Canada could have a squad filled with winners, who have the experience of playing in huge games and winning huge prizes.
The early exit this year could also prove to be a blessing in disguise, as in reality, this squad was never going to have the experience to navigate its way to the latter stages. Now they will be fueled for redemption in their home tournament in a few years. It is likely winners of multiple Bundesliga titles, Belgian Pro League titles as well as many more will return to the fold in 2026, eager to make an impact on the international stage. And perhaps there will even be more exciting stars breaking through at top clubs to play alongside the young players of the present who should be in their primes and playing the highest quality football of their careers.
Qualifying for Qatar was a huge sign of progress for Canadian football, now it is time to make huge strides in the coming years before attempting to make an impact at the World Cup proper in four years.