The Canadian maple leaf hits the pitch for the second time at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Sunday.
Following its return to soccer’s biggest stage in 36 years, Canada impressed doubters in its opener against Belgium. The team dominated the statistics and made its presence felt, only to fall short 1-0 in the end.
Next up is Canada’s second European challenger, Croatia. Here is everything you need to know ahead of the do-or-die clash.
Ahead of the game, head coach John Herdman has been in the headlines after some controversial statements regarding how Canada will approach its next game.
“We’re going to go and eff Croatia,” Herdman said post-Belgium. “That’s as simple as it gets.”
The statement has stirred up pre-game drama between the two sides, and both national team coaches have addressed the comments ahead of kickoff.
Herdman has since said there was no intention to disrespect Croatia.
“It’s not massively respectful to Croatian people and the national team,” he admitted. “But in that moment, you’re taking your team to the next place. We’re here to be fearless.”
Opposing manager Zlatko Dalic, meanwhile, insisted he was not a fan and called for more respect.
“The Croatian national team deserves respect from everyone. We’ve earned it with our performances, behaviour and results,” he said. “Not only now, but throughout our history. As we show respect to everyone, we expect them to treat us the same.
“We will get ready and play football and be dignified towards Canada as well as towards others. But we deserve respect.”
Can Canada put its money where its mouth is?
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Croatia made a shock run to the final, led by captain and Golden Ball winner Luka Modric, before falling 4-2 to France. Despite significant squad turnover, the 12th-ranked side is still a country to be wary of.
Modric will be the biggest threat for Canada. The Real Madrid man is poised to pull the strings in midfield, can create a goal out of nothing, takes set pieces and is an elite dribbler. Alongside Modric, Mateo Kovacic is another strong presence in midfield who could act as an outlet if Modric is man-marked.
Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson, meanwhile, did a solid job of nullifying Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne last game and could have the same task against these two on Sunday.
Additionally, forwards Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Nikola Vlasic will hope to finally find their scoring touch which Canada must be aware of. At the same time, Mislav Oršić could be a surprise threat as the 29-year-old thrived in the Champions League earlier this season with Dinamo Zagreb.
ROTATION’S FOR CANADA?
When speaking to the media on Saturday, Herdman revealed the clash with Croatia “is going to need different things from Belgium and we’ve got a full roster to choose from” when asked about potential starting lineup rotations.
Alphonso Davies played the full 90 minutes against Belgium on his return from over two weeks off through injury, so fans may see him earn less time on the pitch.
Jonathan David could also be a name with less time or even missing from the starting XI, having underwhelmed in the World Cup opener.
Off the bench against Belgium Cyle Larin, Sam Adekugbe and Liam Millar had promising cameos. All three players are key to driving Canada forward and could therefore see more minutes against Croatia with the country hunting for its first World Cup goal.
Heading into the clash, Canada lost its tournament opener to Belgium but had the highest expected goals ratio (3.35) out of all teams from the first round of group stage games. Its record is now two wins, one draw and three losses from its last six games.
Croatia, meanwhile, is undefeated in its last six games with only Wednesday’s 0-0 result against Morocco ending in a draw. Wins over France, Denmark, Austria and Saudi Arabia came before the World Cup, where they scored eight goals and conceded only two across all games.
PATHWAY TO THE KNOCKOUTS
Heading into the match Canada sits bottom of Group F. Belgium leads the way with three points while Morocco and Croatia each have one.
Herdman’s side must therefore pick up at least one point to stay within reach of qualifying for the knockout stages or will have to pack its bags.
HOW TO WATCH
Ahead of the match, CTV and TSN will have a special three-hour preview beginning at 7:45 a.m. EST/4:45 a.m. PST.
The game officially kicks off at 11 a.m. EST/8 a.m. PST.