Canada kicks off its 14-game final round of World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying against Honduras in Toronto Thursday.
It’s the Canadian men’s team’s first appearance in the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying since the 1997.
But with star players like Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and Lille OSC’s Jonathan David in the current Canada squad, many are optimistic Canada’s men can return to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986.
Canada back on home soil
Thursday’s game is Canada’s first home game since before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And head coach John Herdman is hoping the home crowd will help get this round of World Cup qualifying off to winning start.
“I just think coming back home, everyone’s excited to start a new journey in a new space as well,” said Herdman, speaking to the media earlier this week. “I feel that the team feels like their in a new place and are suited to show their fans how much they care about taking this team to World Cup.”
Squad depth key to World Cup qualifying success
After Thursday’s opener against Honduras, Canada travels to Nashville to face the United States Sunday and return to Toronto to face El Salvador the following Wednesday. In the past, international breaks often featured only two games for each team. But the schedule has been adjusted to make up for lost time due to the pandemic.
Herdman admits playing three games in such a tight timeframe will be tough for all teams. But he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“There’s a lot of complexity there,” said Herdman. “But that’s the stuff I love. That’s the thing I get out of bed (for). I love being able to just look at strategizing and challenging ourselves to find the best way forward for this group of men.”
And Herdman thinks recent results prove he has the squad to navigate any issues.
“We were able to show a squad of players in World Cup qualifying (in March and June) and then a squad of players at the (Concacaf) Gold Cup (in July),” he said. “And what I’ve been able to do for this camp is use the best of those. The best of the players that have helped Canada move on this trajectory and to take us through these stages of qualifying.”
Herdman and Canada’s qualifying campaign plan
Canada will play a total of 14 games in the eight-team final round of World Cup qualifying and will hope to finish within the top three places, guaranteeing qualification Qatar 2022. Canada will face Concacaf heavy hitters Mexico and the United States as well as Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama. Each team plays each other twice, home and away.
And John Herdman says he and his staff have identified where they expect to pick up the points that would send Canada to the World Cup – though he didn’t elaborate in-depth.
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“We’ve looked at a campaign plan,” said Herdman. “So, we’ve looked at the 14 matches. We’ve worked around how we’ve seen our points totals and what our stretch goal is that puts the world on notice. And what the minimum requirement is to qualify. We’ve looked at where our margins of error are.
“We’re aware of the road victories that we’re absolutely targeting. And ultimately we want to win every game at home. And that’s a priority for us.”