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Canada’s disappointing World Cup heralds bright future

Canada is among the first teams to be eliminated, but expectations should be high heading into 2026.

Croatia v Canada: Group F - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Canada’s first World Cup since 1986 is over after a humbling 4-1 defeat to Croatia on Sunday.

Andrej Kramaric scored a brace in a 4-1 dismantling of Les Rouges, and had this to say after the game: “I want to thank the Canada coach for the motivation. In the end, Croatia demonstrated who ‘F’d’ whom.”

The performance and comments came in response to Canada manager John Herdman’s confident (albeit arrogant) “We’re going to ‘F’ Croatia” comments in the wake of their 1-0 loss to Belgium in the opening game. Kramaric deserved to get the last laugh, and Croatia deserved to win against a Canadian side that looked better than their record suggests at the tournament. Things could have been different for them, but ultimately the stage was a big one for Canada to handle.

Don’t spend too much time feeling bad for the team that topped Conacacaf’s qualifying group, though. They’ll be back in 2026, and can take this opportunity in stride to better prepare themselves for the quality and stage that overwhelmed them this time.

Herdman’s comments after the loss to Belgium were probably a mistake, but reflected his feeling that Canada played like a team that belonged at the World Cup. That feeling was correct, even after the disappointing defeat. They swarmed all over a Belgian team that has been underwhelming for a couple years now despite its top talent, and probably should have scored from open play as well as from the spot on Alphonso Davies’ miss.

After the Belgium match, infogol measured that Canada’s xG was 2.90 from 11 shots and a saved penalty, an incredibly promising level of chance creation for a team making their first World Cup appearance in 36 years. Most of it came in the first half, however, and as the game went on and they fell behind their confidence waned a bit. They were still showing the skill and ambition that put them at the top of CONCACAF qualification, but they failed to execute.

Their sense of belonging carried into the match against Croatia, but a fast start, and a first-ever World Cup goal, provided only temporary comfort. A Croatian team that is similar to Belgium in age — but has a World Cup final under their belt — showed its experience, responding with two goals before halftime and finishing the game off with another pair of goals in the second half. It was a harsh reality check for a team that never lacked in belief, but it’s only the end for now.

Looking on the bright side, a team inexperienced in playing at the highest level of international football now has real World Cup experience against very good opposition. Though the average age is about 27 for the squad as a whole, the brightest talents are still in their early to mid-20s. Stars such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, and Tajon Buchanan among others will likely still be in the prime of their respective careers when they get their next shot on the world’s biggest stage.

Not to mention they know they’ll be back in four years’ time.

Canada are co-hosts alongside Mexico and the United States for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and there’s plenty to look forward to. They avoid having to go through another rigorous, geometry-themed Concacaf qualifying campaign, giving them plenty of room on the schedule to explore healthy tests against good opponents, and most importantly they will almost certainly return the majority of their core group.

They should carry their confidence forward. It may have hurt them in the headlines, but it was justified from qualification and the promise they showed in each of their performances. The feeling of losing will obviously stick with them as well, but it shouldn’t weigh them down. They played like a team who belonged on the big stage, and that’s what they need going forward.