Canada have varied memories of that tournament in Mexico. No points, no goals in three games. At the very least, they arrived. Until recently, the only time Canada qualified for a World Cup was in 1986.
That all changed on Sunday, as Canada qualified for the 2022 Fifa World Cup with a 4-0 win over Jamaica. And it promises to be a golden era for them, as their standing as co-hosts of the 2026 event is expected – but not yet confirmed – to provide automatic qualifying.
This year’s historic achievement was guided by John Herdman, the English coach who guided the Canadian women’s team to consecutive bronze medal finishes at the Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016.
Although he is unlikely to become the first English manager to win the World Cup since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966, Canada is on the rise and will be a threat in Qatar.
The reality is that all of the children play football
Although Alphonso Davies is the face of Canadian football, Herdman and his side have had to finish qualification without him when he was diagnosed with a heart issue in January.
He is on the mend and will hope to play at the World Cup alongside Lille forward Jonathan David and Besiktas striker Cyle Larin.
Those players are proof of Canada’s expanding youth development strength – as well as a growing interest in football in a country that has traditionally focused on more established sports.
“Canada is a hockey country, but football is the most popular sport,” Herdman remarked in an interview with BBC Sport in January.
“The reality is that all of the youngsters play football. The population of the country is extremely diversified. Many immigrants, including myself, have football as their first love.”
“However, they have lacked a national team to unify behind. The women’s team has had tremendous success, but the men’s squad has yet to do so.
“It’s a sleeping colossus. It is prepared to enter the sporting consciousness of a true Canadian sports enthusiast.”
A nation with a strong sense of self-sufficiency
The images of Canada celebrating in the snow after their November victory against Mexico in Edmonton were unforgettable.
Concacaf’s arduous qualification process was not set up to aid Herdman’s team, as he and his staff had already determined.
The weather is a huge impact, since Canada is frequently pitted against opponents who live in climates that are vastly different from what Canada’s players are used to.
“It was 37 degrees in Haiti in June,” Herdman remarked. “The rubber on the artificial turf was melting people’s footwear.
“There are times in those games when you have the option to check out. The ability to say, “OK, we’ve got an excuse; it’s just too hot.” That is something the brain is constantly tinkering with.”
“It was past time for our foes to feel the same way”
So the Mexico game was held in Edmonton, where the temperature for the match was -9 degrees Celsius and a lot of snow had fallen the day before.
“We could have played in a more hospitable climate, perhaps even in a closed, indoor stadium,” Herdman explained, “but we were quite aware this was a new Canada.”
“It is a tough nation that has grown up playing on artificial fields in freezing temperatures. We saw it as a golden opportunity.
“When people ask, “Why hasn’t Canada qualified?” they mean “Why hasn’t Canada qualified?” You can understand the difficulties of operating the Concacaf window [for a long time]. Three games in seven days, requiring hundreds of miles of travel to complete.”
The nagging chip on his shoulder that keeps him going
Herdman, who was born in Consett, County Durham, quit his post at Sunderland’s academy to take over the New Zealand women’s squad more than 20 years ago.
The move has paid off, to the point that the 46-year-old would be a good fit for a coaching position if he returned to his hometown.
He avoids the subject, knowing that his contract with the Canadian Football Association will not end until after the 2026 World Cup.
“When you haven’t made it as a professional footballer,” he remarked, “there was a big motivation at the moment.” “You’ve got a chip on your shoulder all the time.
“I didn’t play at the highest level, which was frequently mentioned to me during my early years as a coach. It instills in you the desire to work harder in order to demonstrate that you are capable of performing at that level.”
The ‘influencer’ Alphonso
Although Davies’ absence has been noticed, Herdman describes the 21-year-old as a “generational talent” capable of bringing Canadian soccer out of its niche and into the mainstream.
“Not only because of what he’s done on the field, but also because of his social media presence,” Herdman added.
“My 11-year-old daughter is completely enthralled by what he does on Tik-Tok. Throughout her time in Canada, she has never been interested in soccer.
“We have a generation of fans who have never seen something like this before.
“The hardcore fans are there to set the tone, but sports enthusiasts are the present and future. They’ll become enamored with this sport.”