What a sentence that is to write.
You have people taking their kids out of school to watch, taking off work. This is Canada in soccer, not hockey – it's remarkable to see. The times have changed in my country and the moment this group of men and head coach John Herdman have created is really special.
Belgium game outlook
Let's be clear: Belgium are No. 2 in the world and have Kevin De Bruyne, who can change a game instantly, or even goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Eden Hazard doesn't have significant minutes, and Romelu Lukaku is now officially out for two games. There are signs that say Belgium, even with some world-class players at clubs like Manchester City and Real Madrid, are at the point where you can beat them.
This is not going to be an easy task at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. But we just saw Egypt beat Belgium in a pre-tournament friendly and give a possible blueprint to unbalance them… that makes me think Canada could get a result.
What type of result? A good result is a draw – if they win, even better. But a draw is most realistic. That would put a statement in their group of what's to come. The big thing is they need a good performance. Even if it's a loss from a small margin, meaning if they lose 1-0, it's not a moral victory but it tells you you're able to block off a very dynamic and offensive team that could win the World Cup.
Also, Belgium respect Canada. From what's being said, they know the quality Canada have – it's not like they're playing an unknown team. They know who Alphonso Davies is, know who Jonathan David is, know who Stephen Eustáquio is. Les Rouges are longtime outsiders at these tournaments, but Belgium can't be over-confident.
Starting XI prediction
Here’s how I could see Canada lining up in Qatar. The moment we’ve all been waiting for is here.
Milan Borjan has been the No. 1 for a while now. He brings steady leadership, has a presence and is vocal – such an important player for this team.
As of late, he's shown a knack for pulling off saves when Canada need him most, as we saw in the Concacaf Octagonal. He’s going to need a few of those moments, again, in Qatar. I’m confident he’ll deliver.
The three center backs – Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller and Steven Vitória – are mainstays and are comfortable with each other. Cohesion is important in the world of football and you try not to overcomplicate things with the backline. I don't see anything changing here unless something unexpected pops up.
I think the right wingback is Tajon Buchanan. In Belgium, in his New England days, with the national team – he's shown he can play the role well. Even in the Octagonal, Tajon wasn't often an out-and-out winger. He can use his tools to get forward, and then athleticism and confidence to track back as well.
Then the left wingback, naturally, is Sam Adekugbe. He might not get upfield as much because often you have Davies there. But you know exactly what he'll bring, and was borderline a revelation during qualifying.
Watch for them to defend in a 4-4-2 at times, so it’s not always going to look like a traditional five-man backline.
If both players are completely healthy and in form, which I hear they are, it should be Eustáquio and Atiba Hutchinson pairing up. They’re two of our best players and will need to give everything across the group stage.
As much as everyone likes Ismaël Koné, I don't think he's a clear-cut starter right now – but he's got an asterisk, where he has minutes to impact the game. You also don't know if Herdman wants to add another midfielder in there to overload the central part of the field. I could see Jonathan Osorio if that's the case.
The best lineup 100% has David and Davies, those are no-brainers. Then the question is if that third forward becomes Junior Hoilett or Cyle Larin. But after Hoilett was great in the Japan game, it seems like he's confident and entering with momentum. He's a crafty player who brings another dimension to the squad and can also infiltrate inside the lines, playing almost as a midfielder at times too.
The Davies decision is interesting because I could see Herdman putting him as a left wingback. He's coming back from the hamstring injury and when you're deeper like that, you're making longer-type sprints of 40, 50 meters. But when you're in the final third, you're not making long bursts as often. It's a different kind of running required, so that's a factor to consider.
There’s also someone like Lucas Cavallini who can change the game up top if you want a different look.