The stage is set for Canada’s long-awaited return to the FIFA World Cup.
We are just hours away from the Canadians kicking off their adventure (36 years in the making) in Qatar with a game against Belgium at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.
But Wednesday’s clash between world No. 2 Canada will not be just your run-of-the-mill David vs. Goliath matchup.
Belgium’s golden generation, led by world-class talents such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, is nearing its sunset. Despite being near the top of the FIFA rankings for most of the last decade, and even topping the list at some point, the country has nothing to show for its remarkable talent and development.
Enter Canada, whose impressive run in CONCACAF qualifying has caused many to label its current crop of young stars the golden generation of Canadian men’s soccer, led by superstar Alphonso Davies and rising stars Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan and Stephen Eustachian.
And while it may be the nation’s first appearance in the tournament since 1986, the players maintain they are not in Qatar simply to make up the numbers.
“[We’re] beyond excited to have made it to the biggest stage in the world, but I just want to make it clear that we are not here just to enjoy or participate,” said veteran defender Steven Vitoria. “We are here to do a job. “
While the challenges in a tough Group F will be hard and fast, players relish the opportunity to pit themselves against some of the best talent in the world.
“I think every player’s dream is to play against the best, and I think everyone is trying to level up to see where they are against the best players and the best teams,” striker Ike Ugbo said. “So I think it’s a good challenge for sure.”
John Herdman’s side don’t seem short of confidence either, despite taking on a European giant in midweek.
“We do not expect more, we believe” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio on Sunday. “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We want to show that we are a soccer nation, that we can compete with the best in the world”.
Belgium enter Matchday 1 in less than ideal form, having lost 2-1 to Egypt in a pre-tournament warm-up game last Friday. While the Red Devils are hoping that their leader, De Bruyne, is working full steam ahead to get the tournament started, the same can’t be said for some of their other regulars. Lukaku will miss the match after failing to recover in time from a nagging injury, while captain Hazard has barely featured for Spanish club Real Madrid this season, and hasn’t been in his trademark game-changing form for a long time.
Write Belgium off at your peril, as this core of players have seen just about everything the major international competitions have to offer, finishing third at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and reaching the quarterfinals of the last two World Cups. UEFA Europe. Manager Roberto Martínez will be eager to finally claim the country’s first international trophy after six years on the job, and with his stars still at the height of his powers.
This is likely to be Belgium’s last ball, but will they get their fairytale ending?
“We know we’re up against a team that’s been together for six or seven years; a team that’s grown together, there’s not much they haven’t seen together,” Herdman said Tuesday. “We have to understand that there are moments in the game where they will take control, but we have an element of not being afraid of certain parts of what Belgium brings, because it’s all new to us.”
“There will be a naivety that will work in our favor, but it can also work against us.”
Canada’s youth legs hope to put a damper on the Flemish parade, and their best chance of earning a draw, or unlikely win, over their opponents will come if they lead the game, using his speed and counter moves to stretch the fifth oldest team in the tournament.
It seems Belgium is clinging to the past, while Canada has everything in store for the future. The boys in red and white think they’re ready to take on anyone.
“On any given day, any team can beat anyone,” david said. “If it falls on the right day, of course we can win.”
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