Canada continues its final round of World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying with three matches over the next seven days, starting with a visit to Mexico City to face current table-toppers Mexico Thursday.
But the Canadians are again expecting some tough tests both on and off the pitch during this international window.
Canada expecting to “suffer a little bit” over the next three games
Canada began the final round of qualifying with a win and two draws last month, and sits on five points in second place behind Mexico. But the coach and his players admitted they were targeting more from those first three games.
And coach Herdman acknowledges this international window could prove even tougher given the opponents and other issues.
“This window is complicated,” said Herdman last week. “We’ve got Covid cases. We’ve got travel restrictions. We’ve got injuries. We’re carrying five yellow cards.”
After Thursday’s game against Mexico at the Azteca, Canada travels to Jamaica to face the Reggae Boyz in Kingston Sunday before returning home to play Panama in Toronto Tuesday.
Herdman is likely targeting a minimum of four points from this window. But a return of five or six points isn’t out of the question. And Herdman says he’s relishing the challenge ahead and thinks this current squad has the depth to succeed this week.
“I’m excited. It’s a window that we’re going to suffer a little bit in. But it’s a real opportunity for us to show the quality of our depth and to strengthen this group.”
Starting goalkeeper among missing players
Herdman confirmed Wednesday Canada will be without veteran starting keeper Milan Borjan for this set of matches.
The Crvena zvezda keeper tested positive for COVID-19 recently and is still recovering.
“He’s pretty emotional,” said Herdman Wednesday. “This is a big loss for us. Not just a goalkeeper, but his presence. He has been unbelievable with this group during this campaign.”
Vancouver Whitecaps keeper Maxime Crépeau will likely play in Borjan’s place.
Canada will also be without potential starters forward Cyle Larin and midfielder Atiba Hutchinson for at least some of these three games.
The Besiktas teammates have been included in the roster, but aren’t expected to be available until later in the window due to injury.
“They’re included in the roster because we think there’s an opportunity they can take part in some of this window,” said Herdman last week when the roster was announced. “They’re return to play plan is progressing and there is the chance that the three of them may see some time during this ten-day window.”
“They’re on our roster, and they’re certainly not healthy at the moment. But we’ve been working with them individually and with their clubs to look at options and make sure we put our strongest foot forward.”
England-based forward Junior Hoillet (Reading) and Scotland-based midfielder David Wotherspoon (St. Johnstone) will also be unavailable versus Mexico due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions, but should be available for the matches against Jamaica and Panama. They’ve both been ruled out of Canada’s visit to Mexico because that nation is on the UK’s Covid travel red list.
David in terrific form for club
Canadian striker Jonathan David is in a rich vein of form for his club in France. The 21-year-old Lille OSC forward has already scored six goals in nine league appearances for the defending Ligue 1 champions this season.
And he’d love to add to his 19 international goals this week.
Chances to score may be few and far between for the Canadians Thursday against favoured Mexico.
But if the likes of Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan can carve out the occasional opportunity, David’s current sharpness in front of goal could be key to Canada’s hopes of bringing something home from it’s visit to Mexico City.
Canada to embrace playing at the Azteca
Mexico’s Estadio Azteca is considered one of the great cathedrals of world football, notably hosting two World Cup finals.
And Herdman wants his squad to enjoy the experience of playing Mexico in it’s home stadium Thursday night.
“It’s one of the greatest football coliseums in the world,” said Herdman. “To go and play a game of football in that stadium, I want to make sure these players get a chance to embrace that mentality.”
Canada’s coach wants his side to remember how well they played against Mexico in the 2021 Gold Cup semifinal in front of a overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd in Houston last summer. Canada lost that game 2-1, but were only undone by a Mexican winner nine minutes into time added on.
“We’ve experienced the Mexican crowd before,” said Herdman. “And there’s a little bit of something that was left on the field still in that game that I know this group of players want answered.”
“They’re going to go into this with some belief and some confidence that they can compete with, historically, the best team in Concacaf.”
CONCACAF World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying final round