Montreal, Canada — All Canada needs to make history in Qatar is a destination.
This is the second time the Canadian men’s national soccer team has achieved the sport’s biggest event, following their first and only appearance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
But in the opening round of the tournament 36 years ago, the squad failed to score a single goal in their three games — all defeats — setting the stage for a potentially historic moment at Qatar in 2022.
you have to do is find the back of the net.
“The first attempt in 1986 was probably less than glorious,” said Alan McDougall, a history professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario and author of Contested Fields: A Global History of Modern Football.
“But Canadian football has made a lot of progress since then, and I think there’s good reason to be optimistic that the 2022 team will be better off than their 1986 predecessor,” he told CNN Breaking News.
“There is no doubt that the 2022 team has the chance to rewrite some historic mistakes.”
Canada faces their first gigantic hurdle on Wednesday as they face Belgium — number two in the world — in their first game of the competition at Al-Rayyan Stadium.
The two countries have only faced each other once so far, with Belgium taking first place 2-0 in an international friendly in Ottawa in 1989.
This time, the 41-placed Canadian team is counting on a boost from Alphonso Davies, his 22-year-old superstar, who recently suffered an Achilles tendon injury while playing with his Bundesliga team Bayern Munich.
Davies told Canadian broadcaster TSN on Sunday that it was “devastating” for the team and for himself to be injured just a few weeks before the start of the World Cup. “But luckily it wasn’t too serious an injury,” and he expects to be on the pitch 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, the 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’ve defeated teams they didn’t expect would beat them.”
According to Jones, Canada has “already exceeded all expectations” by reaching the 2022 World Cup. Now the focus is on success in the group stage, in which Canada not only faces Belgium but also Croatia and Morocco.
“Some people are hoping for a goal, some are hoping for a point, some are hoping for a win,” said Jones. “But I think [coach] John Herdman and the team want to qualify” for the knock-out phase, the next step in the competition.
Jones sees reason for optimism in view of the surprising surprises at the previous World Cup. “If you look at the results [from Tuesday], the underdogs are doing well: Saudi Arabia beat Argentina and Tunisia got a draw against Denmark,” he told CNN Breaking News.
Even at the 1986 World Cup, Canada did better than predicted by keeping the game against France goalless for up to the 78th minute, Jones said. Les Bleus finally won 1:0.
“There were a lot of people who expected [France] to get double digits,” Jones explained. “So we’ve surprised before and hope we can surprise again.”
#CANMNT flashback 📸
Canadian captain Bruce Wilson shakes hands with Michel Platini from France ahead of the group stage match at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico. #WeCAN pic.twitter.com/ew5FoKsTxy
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 14, 2022
In the meantime, most experts say the chances of Canada scoring the elusive first World Cup goal are high.
“I’m pretty confident,” Jeffrey Rosenthal, a statistics professor at the University of Toronto, recently told U of T News, explaining that the team has scored at least once in seven of the last 10 games.
“According to this measure, the probability of not scoring at least one goal in all three upcoming group games is only 2.7 percent, which means that they are sure to score at least once at least at least once,” said Rosenthal.
“Now, some of their group opponents could be stronger than their previous opponents, so this calculation isn’t entirely fair. But I would still give them an 80 percent chance of scoring at least one goal.”
It remains to be seen which player passes the ball past a goalkeeper — and when.
The first opportunity is against Belgium on Wednesday, followed by games against Croatia on November 27 and Morocco on December 1.
“If I bet money on it, I’d probably go with Jonathan David [to score the first goal for Canada],” McDougall said. “He plays at the front and he is the player the team relied on primarily for goals,” he said.
“I think when it comes to raising Canada’s profile, screaming from the world’s most famous player, Alphonso Davies, would be the most dramatic way to announce Canada’s participation in the World Cup.”
What does Canada’s qualification for the World Cup mean for us and our fans?
A word. Everything pic.twitter.com/7g86mi00iv
— Jonathan David (@itsJoDavid) November 18, 2022