With less than two weeks to go before the FIFA World Cup kicks off, Canada’s men’s national team is putting the finishing touches to their preparations for a 36-year tournament.
The team has only qualified once – back in 1986 – which means a whole new generation of fans are now preparing to cheer for the national team as they head into the world’s premier football tournament.
To help Canadians understand the path to the cup and who might end up winning, CBC News has prepared a Bandwagon fans’ guide with everything you need to know about the beautiful game – and Canada’s chances have to.
Do you have a question about the World Cup? Send it to us at [email protected]
Soccer newbie, here! What basics should I know?
The World Cup takes place every four years. Canada is one of 32 teams participating in their continental federation’s tournament after qualifying.
Qatar is hosting this year’s tournament (it’s controversial – more on that later) and will play the opening game against Ecuador on November 20th.
The World Cup final takes place on December 18th and the winner takes home the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
In case you were wondering, there’s also a Women’s World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand next July – and Canada will play.
How does the competition work?
First, the group stage: Teams are divided into eight groups of four and play each team in their own group once. Four matches will be played each day over a 12-day period.
In this phase, a win counts for three points, a draw for one point and a loss for zero points. The top two teams in each group – meaning the teams with the most “points” – advance to the knockout stages.
The knockout round: The remaining 16 teams play against different groups (e.g. the best team in group A plays against the second best team in group B). Any losing team is eliminated from the tournament until the semifinals when four teams remain. Two advance to the final, the remaining two play for third place.
Who is Canada playing against?
Canada is in Group F, so Belgium (Nov. 23), Croatia (Nov. 27) and Morocco (Dec. 1) play in the group stage.
For the football uninitiated, those are three tough encounters: Belgium are currently second in the men’s FIFA rankings, Croatia lost the 2018 World Cup final to France and Morocco were unbeaten in their World Cup qualifiers.
So we’re not going to win the World Cup?
Experts say probably not – but don’t let that get you down.
Remember: This is Canada’s second-ever World Cup. In 1986, the team lost all three games without scoring a single goal.
“The measure of success is in a way a goal… If they win it would be huge,” said football writer Chris Jones, who will be covering the World Cup for CBC Sports in Qatar.
“When Canada drops out of the group [stage]that’s incredible, that’s our version of winning the World Cup.”
Who is likely to win then?
Bookmakers favor Brazil as tournament winners, followed by Argentina, who have not won the cup since 1986.
France, the 2018 champions, are the third favorites, followed by England, whose fans are praying for their first World Cup since 1966.
Tell me more about the Canadian team. Who should I name?
Star Midfielder Alfonso Davies is one of the world’s best young footballers. Fans were concerned after the 22-year-old suffered a thigh strain at Bayern Munich over the weekend, but the club told CBC News that Davies’ participation in the World Cup was “not in jeopardy”.
Tajon BuchananMore, 23, is also a rising international star, playing for Belgian top flight side Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League. “This is a very exciting player. This is a guy that opposing defenders have absolutely no dealings with because he’s so fast,” said football journalist John Molinaro, a CBC contributor and founder of TFC Republic.
captain Atiba Hutchinson overcomes a long injury to play in his first World Cup. At 39, it will also be his last. “Emotionally it will be fun to watch him [play]said Soccer North host Andi Petrillo from CBC Sports.
Also watch out for the defensive midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and further JonathanDavid both traveling to Qatar from outstanding seasons in Europe. “If you had to bet on which Canadian would score the first goal in World Cup history, I think Jonathan David is a really good bet,” Jones said.
You mentioned that there is controversy surrounding this World Cup. Tell me more?
There are several, including the heat, Qatar’s human rights record, Iran’s participation and, as has become the World Cup norm, allegations of corruption linked to FIFA.
First, the heat: Expect players to sweat in temperatures above 30°C. The tournament was moved to November from June to July to keep it a bit cooler. But this shift also means many players are coming straight out of the European and North American football seasons, with no rest to adjust to the heat.
“They’re probably going to be a little more lax and sort of slower in their game than if they were in some kind of perfect thermal situation,” said Prof. Stephen Cheung, an expert in environmental stress and human physiology at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.
This heat has also proved deadly for potentially thousands of migrant workers in Qatar, a figure the Qatari government disputes, which brings us to another controversy: Qatar’s human rights record.
According to Human Rights Watch, same-sex relationships are criminalized in the host country, with LGBTQ+ people facing arbitrary arrest and abuse by security forces.
And then there’s involvement of Iran: In recent days, Ukraine and international activists have called on FIFA to ban Iran’s participation due to its role as an arms supplier to Russia as well as its crackdown on activists.
FIFA has responded by telling teams to “focus on football” rather than human rights issues as the football organization continues to be persecuted allegations of corruption.
The US Department of Justice claims FIFA officials accepted bribes to give Qatar hosting rights in 2010. This is just one of many such allegations leveled against FIFA and its leadership in recent years.
whoops OK. Is there anything else I should consider?
Two big names in football are (probably) playing their last World Cup: Argentinian Lionel Messi and Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo.
Neither has ever won the World Cup, so it would be a big deal for both captains – and their country’s fans – to lift the trophy during their most recent tournament.
Any tips for my World Cup vision plan?
You can see the previous schedule here. Unfortunately for Canadian fans, World Cup kick-off times are between 5am and 2pm ET, which could make it difficult to tune in on a workday (especially from a bar) unless your boss is also a football fan.
Should I say soccer or football at the end?
Although Canada, USA and Australia call the game “soccer”, the World Cup is officially a “soccer” competition and FIFA is short for Fédération Internationale de Football Association. You can still call it football if you want – just be prepared for other teams’ fans to correct you.
Watch the new CBC Sports show Soccer North airing weekly on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube channel. Hosted by Andi Petrillo, Soccer North brings Canadians the hottest soccer headlines on and off the field. Soccer North will be following all of Canada’s matches in Qatar LIVE.
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