john-herdman-nov27

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Almost as quickly as it began, the Canadian men’s national team’s World Cup is over.

Not literally, as they still have to face Morocco on Thursday to close out Group F. But it will be a dead rubber for Les Rouges after losing 4-1 to Croatia at Khalifa International Stadium.

Sunday's elimination is a crushing blow after the rave reviews of Canada’s performance against Belgium. It’s especially gut-wrenching after Alphonso Davies opened the scoring after 68 seconds, perhaps boosting optimism that this was Canada’s night.

But it was not to be. Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja struck in quick succession right before the end of the first half to turn around a poor start. Kramaric eventually completed his brace off an Ivan Perisic cross to drop the nail in Canada’s coffin.

Lovro Majer slammed the coffin shut with a late strike off a Kamal Miller error after an attempted clearance slipped through his feet.

When trash talk goes wrong

One would’ve imagined that this would be the match that Canada would approach more calmly compared to Belgium on Wednesday. Emotions must’ve been at an all-time high between hearing the first Canadian national anthem at the World Cup in 36 years, to playing the match and going down swinging.

Morale was high after the loss, but that didn’t mean the pressure was lowered.

“I think the pressure is going to be just as high if anything because now we understand what we have to do,” said defender Alistair Johnston after training on Friday.

It showed.

It was likely heightened after John Herdman’s “F Croatia” comments immediately after the Belgium game. The match was lit for the umpteenth time after the game and it started another bonfire.

"I want to thank the Canada coach for the motivation,” said Kramaric when asked about the comments in the post-match press conference. “In the end, Croatia demonstrated who ‘F’d’ whom."

“That's my learning,” Herdman said. “I'll take it on the chin.”

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic claimed that he didn’t see nor shake hands with Herdman after the game, although the Englishman was seen congratulating multiple Croatian players on the pitch.

From the moment this matchup shifted into focus, emotions have played a central role from beginning to end.

That includes the early moments of the game when Davies struck.

What might have been

“It was a great start,” Herdman reflected. “It’s something we've been waiting a long time for.”

From there, the game slowly unraveled. The first 25 to 30 minutes saw Canada hitting Croatia in transition before the tides turned and it was the 2018 finalists doing damage.

Eventually, as Croatia piled up the goals, the likes of Miller were animated in questioning why their teammates were not tracking back defensively. Tajon Buchanan took an unnecessary yellow as well, likely out of frustration.

It’s easy to be levelheaded when everything goes well. The best teams are able to adapt to any situation and for most of the last 18 months, that’s what Canada have done so well.

Sunday was one of the few occasions when they failed to do so.

There’s a reason why Croatia are loaded with match winners and reached the World Cup final in 2018. They are comfortable being uncomfortable.

Reasons for optimism

Canada will get there. This World Cup was an entirely new learning experience in every way. No one could’ve anticipated this becoming reality and yet, seemingly overnight, Les Rouges qualified.

Whether it was the Belgium defeat or Sunday’s loss, there are several takeaways that Canada can utilize.

The latest one is knowing when and how to maintain composure on the World Cup stage. Thankfully, they have another three and a half years to prepare for co-hosting in 2026.