CANADAS rise has been meteoric.
With stars like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, there was a perception that Canada was a fringe competitor to claim a top-four spot and make their way to Qatar.
What transpired exceeded everyone’s expectations, well, at least everyone outside of the Canadian national team program.
Exceeding all expectations, Canada topped the CONCACAF table, finishing ahead of the favourites USA and Mexico.
If there’s one theme to pull from their qualifying campaign, it’s the power of the collective.
Predicted starting XI
For those who followed Canada’s journey to the World Cup, some of the standout features of the squad were tactical versatility and an extraordinary youth movement.
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At the World Cup, Canada will likely feature either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2.
Against stronger opponents, they tended to play in a 4-4-2, then went with a 4-2-3-1 when they expected to have more joy and possession.
Given the quality of their group, which features Belgium, Morocco and Croatia, a 4-4-2 may very well be the go-to system.
In that starting XI, Milan Borjan of Red Star Belgrade will start in goal.
Vitória and Kamal Miller are the likeliest centrebacks, flanked by Richie Laryea on the right and Adekugbe on the left.
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In midfield, Porto’s Stephen Eustáquio and Toronto FC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye will likely see the majority of time at the pivot positions with the 39-year-old Atiba Hutchinson rotating in.
His recovery from injury will largely dictate his playing time in this tournament. If fit, he’ll certainly see the pitch as he is the emotional leader of the team.
Tajon Buchanan, the Club Bruges winger who featured twice against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League, will likely start on the right while Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies leads the attack from the left.
Though the Bundesliga star plays left-back for Bayern, he will feature as Canada’s left midfielder.
Junior Hoilett will play the No10 role with Jonathan David of Lille as the striker.
Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio, the 30-year-old with 55 caps for his country, has made the squad – but his fitness will be in doubt.
If he does play, look for him to play in that central attacking midfielder role, which would then free Hoilett to see minutes on the wing as well.
Looking at our first tactical image, which comes from their match against Uruguay, we see the asymmetry of Canada’s 4-2-3-1.
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The possessions tend to be very direct, looking to break lines early.
In possession, this is when Canada’s most dangerous.
If their midfielders can run onto a ball between the lines, their pace in the wings and David’s movement centrally will cause problems.
Once Canada gets into the box, they do arrive with a lot of numbers. Should the initial possession not lead to a shot, look for the Canucks to cut the ball back to one of their two outside-backs.
As that happens, the forward and attacking mids are very good at offering a clear target in the box.
In their match against Qatar, their runners overloaded at the far post and created a 3v2 against the host nation. The result of this sequence was a Larin goal.
Davies and David are well-known across the globe.
While this is a Canadian squad that will lean heavily on the collective, expect John Herdman to design the team’s tactics to bring out the best qualities of their two young stars.
This is where Canada excels. This is a hard-working, tactically disciplined and fiercely competitive team with complete buy-in from the squad when the team is out of possession.
If Canada can make it out of a difficult group, their quality out of possession will likely be the reason for their success.
Even though Canada is a counterattacking team, they break the mould with their aggressive high press.
Looking at the first tactical image, Canada does well to pressure the centrebacks and funnel play deeper, often into the wings.
The sequence against Mexico plays directly to a high recovery by Canada and a Larin goal.
That goal was the direct result of Canada’s effective high press.
Once in the wings, Canada will again attempt to seal the opposition.
Looking at the final image of the section, which is again from the Mexico match, Canada has seven players in that shaded area.
Canada’s attacking output will largely come down to the effectiveness of their counterattacking.
Even if Canada loses the ball in this scenario, they are well placed to counterpress, recover numbers behind the ball, and eliminate the opponent’s direct moves to goal.
The most important aspect of Canada’s defensive transitions is getting numbers behind the ball, and recovering into their solid defensive shape.
During attacking transitions, look for Canada to prioritise the wings. The pace of Davies on the left will be a threat to any opponent.
Even when Canada counterattacks centrally, their narrow defensive shape positions the wingers to run behind the backline through the central channel.
That’s what we have in the final image in this section.
Canada’s play in transition was exceptional in qualifying.
Should it carry over into the World Cup, you’ll find the squad is difficult to break down and a threat in attacking transitions.
It’s high up the pitch that we find many of Canada’s top young talents.
Buchanan and Larin are expected to be regulars, and of course, Davies. Hoilett will feature as well, and we may see the likes of Cavallini and Millar throughout the tournament.
They may not have the household names that Belgium enjoys, but this is a very talented group of players with the right blend of emerging young stars and veteran leadership.
Larin, who should recover his fitness in time for the World Cup, also gives Canada some tactical versatility.
Midfield is certainly the thinnest part of Canada’s team. That said, the midfielders listed in the World Cup squad are specifically on the team to play as defensive midfielders.
Regardless of the system, Canada will likely deploy a double pivot.
Should Canada play with a four-midfielder system, Davies and Buchanan are the incumbents in the wings.
Hoilett is another example of a player listed as a forward who will play as an attacking midfielder. Laryea can play right midfield as well.
Along the backline, Canada will feature several players who are either in or nearing their prime years.
Then there is Steven Vitória, the 6’5″ Chaves centre-back who leads the line at the young age of 35. He’s the veteran leader of this group.
The son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores Islands and a member of Portugal’s youth national teams, Vitória started representing his native Canada in 2016.
Hutchinson can also play along the backline, but it’s widely expected that Miller will start beside Vitória.
There’s no questioning Canada’s star man.
Alfonso Davies, the Bayern Munich superstar who was born to Liberian parents in a Canadian refugee camp, immigrated to Canada with his family in 2005.
His leap from Vancouver to Bayern Munich was unprecedented in the league’s history.
Entering the World Cup fresh off his 22nd birthday, Davies is the uncontested star on the team.
Though he will play higher up the pitch as an attacking left midfielder, the same position he played at Vancouver, Davies is as well-rounded a player as you’ll find at the World Cup.
His role with Bayern Munich transfers exceptionally well to Canada’s defensive commitment and counterpressing responsibilities.
Odds makers list Belgium and Croatia as the heavy favourites to make it through the group stage but don’t sleep on this Canadian team. They’re built for tournament play.
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Canada doesn’t arrive in Qatar with the same pressure that Belgium and Croatia do and that could be good for them.
But it’s fair to expect them to finish third at this group unless Croatia and Belgium really underperform, after all, we’re talking about the last runners up and the last 3rd place of the Russia World Cup in 2018.
For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here