Canada look to build on promising Qatar showing in 2026



Canada touched down on FIFA World Cup™ soil for the first time in 36 years when they travelled to Qatar in November 2022. While they returned from their quest without a point, much like they did after Mexico 1986, John Herdman’s side earned plenty of plaudits in the Middle East.

Placed in a group with a much-fancied Belgium side, 2018 finalists Croatia – who would reach the podium again in Qatar – and surprise packages Morocco, Canada had it all to do if they were to escape from Group F. They showed no signs of opening-day jitters against Belgium, however, as their brave, front-foot style of play caused the European opposition all manner of problems. They enjoyed 21 attempts at goal, including a saved Alphonso Davies penalty, but would go down 1-0 in a result which many thought flattered the Red Devils.

Davies would go on to score the nation’s first-ever goal at the global finals just two minutes into the following game against Croatia, storming into the box to crash home an emphatic header. While the goal will go down as a long-awaited and historical landmark for Canadian football, four unanswered Croatian goals meant it was no more than consolation on the night, as the Vatreni put paid to the nation’s World Cup dreams. A narrow 2-1 defeat to Morocco rounded out the campaign.

Canada’s hosting duties, of course, mean they won’t have to wait another 36 years to appear on the global stage. With their pathway to the 48-team finals – the largest World Cup in history – already secured, the squad can solely focus on continuing their good work on the pitch, without the immediate need to follow it up with results.

What’s happened since Qatar 2022?

Following their World Cup exploits, Canada finished up their Concacaf Nations League group-stage campaign with victories over Curacao and Honduras to send them through to the last four. In the build-up to the knockout stages, Herdman bolstered his coaching ranks with the additions of former Inter Miami coach Phil Neville and Richard Shaw, who has coaching experience with Crystal Palace and Watford.

Semi-final victory over Panama in June booked a date in paradise with USA, where the Stars and Stripes ran out deserved 2-0 victors. Following the defeat, national icon Atiba Hutchinson, who captained the nation in Qatar, announced his retirement from international football with a record 104 caps.

A depleted squad, which didn’t include the likes of Davies, star striker Jonathan David or the now-retired Hutchinson, then took part in the Concacaf Gold Cup later that month. They edged past Guadeloupe to advance to the knockouts, but USA would once again come out on top in the quarter-finals to take the nation’s run without a trophy to 23 years.

Most significantly, however, was the departure of coach Herdman as head coach, announced on 28 August 2023. Herdman decided to switch from the national team coaching scene to take over club side Toronto FC in Major League Soccer (MLS).

What’s next?

The most pressing item for the Canadian men’s national team will be to find a long-term successor for Herdman.

Canada will face Japan in a Niigata friendly in October prior to entering the 2023/24 Concacaf Nations League at the quarter-final stage a month later. If they advance to the semi-finals of that competition, they will earn a pathway to the 2024 Copa America, held in the United States, as one of six guest nations.

The 2024-25 Concacaf Nations League is then due to kick-off in September of 2024, and will act as the qualification for the 2025 Gold Cup.

The coach

After a hugely successful five-and-a-half years in charge, Canada Soccer will have to move forward without Herdman. Mauro Biello will serve as the interim head coach while the search for a long-term solution continues.

During his time in charge, Herdman led Canada on a 12-game unbeaten run during Concacaf qualifying to put them in the driving seat ahead of Mexico, USA and Costa Rica. While two defeats from the final three games followed, Canada still managed to edge through as group winners and book a long-awaited World Cup berth. Herdman became the first coach to take both a female and male nation to the World Cup finals in the process.

Herdman moved from a 4-4-2 to a 5-2-2-1, with the latter getting star player Davies closer to the action in a three-pronged attack, typically alongside rising star Tajon Buchanan and spearheaded by Lille’s David. Free-flowing and fearless with the ball, the Englishman has also created a well-drilled and disciplined unit.

Key players

Undoubtedly the nation’s poster boy, Alphonso Davies has achieved so much in the game and seems destined to go even further yet. Lille striker Jonathan David has also made waves in Europe in both France and Belgium, while Club Brugge star Tajon Buchanan completes an incredibly exciting front three. The trio will all be 27 or younger by the time the tournament gets underway, leaving further room for improvement yet.

Other key men to look out for are Basel midfielder Liam Miller and full-back-cum-centre-back Alistair Johnston, who impressed so much in his new role during the World Cup that he earned a move to Scottish giants Celtic following the tournamen

Ones to watch

With a raft of the high-profile European-based players unavailable for the most recent international window, Herdman called upon a squad of players who largely play across North America.

Columbus Crew attacker Jacen Russell-Rowe is one of those who was brought into the camp during the June and July fixtures. The striker already has some World Cup pedigree too, having netted both of Canada’s goals at the FIFA U-17 World Cup™ in 2019. Fellow MLS youngsters Ali Ahmed and Moise Bombito were also handed call-ups during the Gold Cup campaign and will be hitting their peak come 2026.

Exciting forward Jayden Nelson netted his first international goal for over three years during the Gold Cup victory over Cuba. The 20-year-old left boyhood club Toronto to join Norwegian outfit Rosenborg in February 2023 and will be looking to force himself into contention.