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Youth movement leading Canada’s upturn

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  • Canada building towards bright future under John Herdman
  • 2026 World Cup co-hosts have Qatar 2022 in their sights
  • North Americans up to 76th in latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

Canada is a country known for its vast nature and wilderness. It is usually a source of pride for those that make the North American nation their home. However, if one was speak to a supporter of its men’s national team, the topic of being in the footballing wilderness is sure to arise and with a tone of lament and frustration.

Thirty two years has passed since Canada took part in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ - the country’s only appearance at the world finals. Take away the unlikely CONCACAF Gold Cup victory in 2000, the Canucks have struggled to be on the radar at the highest level in recent decades.

While that frustration may have been heightened, as Canadian football followers took in this year’s World Cup in Russia, 2018 is proving to be an important year of building towards Canada’s return to respectability in the footballing world.

That turnaround can be traced back to the beginning of the year when John Herdman made the unique move of leaving his post as Canadian women’s national team coach to succeed Octavio Zambrano as bench boss of the men’s programme.

The engaging Englishman wasted little time in setting his plans in motion, handing some of Canada’s promising young talent the opportunity to forge their careers as senior internationals from an early age. If recent results are to go by, Canadian fans may not have to wait for when the country co-hosts the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and USA, but dream of seeing the Red and White back on the world stage at Qatar 2022.

Encouraging signs
Having lived in the shadow of its women’s team and their back-to-back Olympic bronze medal successes - both of which were orchestrated by Herdman - Canada have gone about their business getting results and building team chemistry in 2018. This includes a pair of recent wins against US Virgin Islands and Dominica in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying, as they aim to secure a spot in the top tier of the regional competition and a berth at next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. Those efforts have also been reflected in Canada moving up to 76th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking - their highest position since 2013.

While Herdman is pleased with the upturn, he acknowledged the efforts of his predecessor Zambrano in putting things on the right track. “I think a lot of the good work was done by the previous coach,” he told reporters in a conference call last week. “I think that Gold Cup run [in 2017] was important, as some draws and some results there helped amass some points, then we made sure we took care of business by winning by the margins we’re expected to, in order to accumulate ranking points.

“I think we know it’s [playing in a tournament like] the Gold Cup and when you come up against those higher-ranked teams like Mexico and Costa Rica. It’s when we punch above our weight and get a result [against those teams] that really matters to people. That’s when your ranking is affected.

“I guess for us, we’re probably going to teeter around this same marker for a period of time, but this team is ready to step forward, and when it is, it will post a result that will really propel Canada forward. I think we’re getting closer to that.”

Players to watch
Having been a team that has struggled to score goals over the years, Canada now possesses an array of attacking talent. Among them are youngsters Jonathan David (KAAGent/Belgium), Liam Millar (Liverpool U-23/ENG) and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla (Barcelona B/Spain). All three are making good progress with their European-based clubs.

While hopes are high for the burgeoning trio, the expectations among Canadian fans for Bayern Munich-bound Alphonso Davies may be difficult to measure after the 18-year-old turned heads with his impressive displays for Major League Soccer club Vancouver Whitecaps.

They all look set to feature in Canada’s upcoming CONCACAF Nations League qualifier, as they visit St. Kitts and Nevis on Sunday 18 November.

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