RAYYAN, Qatar — Canada will leave the World Cup later this week without advancing to the knockout stage, the consequence of losing its first two matches against esteemed opposition, including a 4-1 decision against 2018 finalist Croatia on Sunday. For this, there is great disappointment.
“We weren’t afraid of anybody,” defender Steven Vitória said. “We kept pushing forward, trying to play that attacking style. We’re proud of that. We’re going to keep working to close gaps and test the best teams in the world. That’s where we want to take our country.”
In this World Cup, Canada has earned style points, if not actual points, in its first appearance since its tournament debut in 1986. Defensively, though, it could not hold off Croatia, which scored eight minutes apart before intermission and added two goals in the second half to move into a first-place tie with surprising Morocco.
Belgium, the Group F favorite, sits on three points after its 2-0 upset loss to the Moroccans earlier Sunday. Group F will conclude Thursday with Morocco facing Canada and Croatia playing Belgium. Two will advance to the round of 16.
No matter how they fare in the finale, the Canadians “left a positive image of what we want for the future,” Vitória said.
The future undoubtedly will continue to feature Alphonso Davies, a former West African refugee who has become a global star at Bayern Munich. The 22-year-old winger made Canadian history Sunday with the early goal.
“Knowing people back home from east to west were celebrating somewhere,” Coach John Herdman said, “it was a great moment. We got to celebrate something we’ve been waiting a long time for.”
The good vibes did not last long. Andrej Kramaric scored the first of his two goals, and Marko Livaja broke the deadlock.
The Croatians said they gained incentive from Herdman, who used an expletive during a TV interview after the 1-0 defeat to Belgium to describe what his team would do to Croatia. The Croatian media made note of it in the buildup to this match.
“I want to thank the Canada coach for the motivation,” Kramaric said through an interpreter. “He could have chosen different words. He could have formulated it differently. In the end, Croatia demonstrated who effed who.”
Croatian Coach Zlatko Dalic, architect of the improbable 2018 run in Russia, exchanged greetings with Herdman before the match. Afterward, though, they did not cross paths.
“That’s his way of doing things,” Dalic said. “He was obviously mad. He is a high-quality professional, but it will take him time to learn some things.”
Canada was doing all the talking at the start. The goal sequence began with a long clearance by goalkeeper Milan Borjan, and in a matter of seconds, the ball was in the net.
Cyle Larin connected with Tajon Buchanan on the right flank. Drifting into the box, Jonathan David drew center back Dejan Lovren with him, which created an inviting channel. Davies accepted the invitation.
After starting his run from a deep position, he made his decisive move. Josip Juranovic did not see Davies coming and stood no chance of winning Buchanan’s high cross. Davies soared for a running, 10-yard header.
Khilafa International Stadium turned into a festival of red-clad Canadian revelers.
In the 1986 tournament debut, Canada lost all three matches by a combined 5-0. In subsequent decades, it stumbled over and over in the Concacaf qualifying phase. Early this year, the drought ended after it finished first, ahead of regional powers Mexico and the United States.
On Sunday, Canada sustained pressure, teasing its supporters with quick forays and impressing the neutral fans with a forward-thinking style. Before long, though, Croatia figured out how to contain Davies.
The pace became too fast and the play too open to remain a 1-0 game.
In the 36th minute, Ivan Perisic slipped the ball ahead to Kramaric in stride at the corner of the six-yard box for a low one-timer into the far corner.
Croatia continued taking advantage of open space and Canada’s tepid defending. In the 44th minute, Juranovic took flight from midfield, outpacing the sleek Davies and veering centrally. The Canadians closed, but after losing control, Juranovic touched the ball between Vitória’s legs to Livaja, who drove in a low shot from the top of the penalty area.
Canada’s hopes were all extinguished in the 70th minute when Kramaric set himself up for a left-footer from 14 yards. Lovro Majer added a goal in stoppage time.
“Each and every one of the players that have been on the pitch, from the first game to this game, have played with the right mentality and played fearless, played brave,” Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson said. “But of course, we were playing on a world stage with a lot of quality [on the other teams]. There’s things we’re going to have to learn. We didn’t get the result we wanted. But we’ll learn from this. And we’ll get better at it.”
World Cup in Qatar
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