Despite a 1 – 0 defeat against Belgium on Wednesday, Canada demonstrated to a huge audience that Canada ‘belongs’ in the World Cup, as their coach John Herdman has said.
They showed they had the skills to be an exceptional team.
But before we shoot off into the clouds, we do have to remember that this is only their first game of the contest and you’re only as good as your previous game.
Why does that matter? They have Croatia next… and it’s their first time facing each other.
What did Canada do well?
Pressure on Belgium
You could argue that Belgium were just slow at getting started and that sluggishness was easily exploitable by an energetic underdog out to impress.
It looked like everyone was putting pressure on the Belgians and they launched almost two dozen shots on goals and constructing attacks against the defence which resulted in Courtois earning his cap. When Belgium finally switched on, Canada had a challenge and their skills were tested.
Hungry for the ball
When you look at the numbers from the game, they attacked and intercepted the ball from Belgium 11 times more than the Red Devils. It was clear from the way players like Laryea and Buchanan pushed up from midfield to take a pop at Courtois.
Another point which is important in any team competing in such a high-profile contest, keep your heads up. That was crucial when they conceded 1 – 0.
Fixes ahead of Croatia?
Shooting on target
Only 4 of their 22 shots on the Belgian goal were direct shots on goal.
You might say, the quantity of the shots is an impressive number and that puts pressure on the opponent’s defence, well yes but a sub-par Belgium attempted 9 times with 3 of those being direct and 1 being the game-winning goal.
Canada made 448 passes of which 382 were completed. Why would that matter? Well interceptions of the ball and the loss of possession by a more seasoned opponent is curtains for an attack.
Croatia will not be a team to be trifled with and they can easily put a spanner in the works if they can find a chink to exploit in the Canadian playmaking.
On the whole, Canada played cleanly throughout the Belgium game, the final minutes and the tiredness kicking in, Canada took two yellow-cards.
One of those yellows was given to Canada’s star striker, Alphonso Davies.
Davies is a crucial player and that means he’ll have to be careful to avoid fouling again because that could shake up Canada’s game-plan.
Hopefully, there isn’t an over-reliance on Davies to be Canada’s talisman and from the looks of the Belgium game, there are plenty of hungry goal-scorers.
The 2018 runners-up are not going down without a fight. A draw is the best they could muster during their first game against Morocco. That frustration that they couldn’t secure a decisive win will play hard on the heads of Croatia’s experienced squad.
If they lose to Canada, not only will it be a huge upset at potentially dropping out so soon in the contest, it’s also an embarrassment. It could happen.
What’s more, this will very likely be the swan song for many of Croatia’s key players including Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, two of the team’s most experienced players.
Form (Before the World Cup) D/W/W/W/W
Best Position: 2nd (2018)
World Ranking: 12
How do they play?
To begin with, Croatia is in great form. They’ve won 4 of their 5 previous games prior to the World Cup including the defending World Champions France and contenders like Denmark.
Croatia’s manager Zlatko Dalic favours a 4-3-3 formation with a 4-2-3-1 as a backup.
This is a key one for Croatia, take the ball, hold it, make chances. While strikes are key to winning, midfield and defence are powerhouses for Croatia.
‘When you have a midfield like ours, you have to strive to move the ball and create your chances through possession. We must play out of the back and when midfielders don’t have to drop deep to get the ball we are more dangerous. We’ll press when possible, and when not, we’ll defend in a block.’ Dalic said ahead of their final games in the Nations League earlier this year.
While there are the star players, Dalic has swapped out a number of the 2018 team and replaced them with a bunch of youngsters who are more flexible, flight of foot and confident.
Two of those new faces are Josip Sutalo of Dinamo Zagreb and Borna Sosa of VfB Stuttgart. Both are formidable defenders.
Old but gold
Considered to one of the greatest midfield players of all time, Luka Modrić has been representing the national team since 2006 and scoring 23 goals. He’s considered to be a strong playmaker that’s able to set the pace of the game and using the trivela technique of curling the ball into the goal.
He had some strong chances on Morocco earlier in the week but none could beat Atlas Lions keeper.
Perišić is considered one of the old hands in the Croatian team. He’s appeared 115 times for Croatia and scoring 32 goals.
Perišić plays in a multitude of roles from winger to midfielder, second striker and even wing-back, something he needed to learn while playing with Tottenham Hotspur.
A possible surprise is going to come from this player. He’s seemingly bursting with stamina and boasts technical abilities rivalling his teammates above. He’ll be formidable in midfield.
Can Canada win?
If Belgium was a test of Canada’s ability to dominate, Croatia is going to be their test of defence and keeping calm, finding their opportunity and taking the strike.
They just have to be conservative about when and not squander their chances with fly balls.