In football and life, you want to be rewarded for your efforts.
Canada were fantastic against Belgium, winning the crowd and getting respect from everyone in the tournament. But after a 1-0 loss, they now need to get a result against Croatia on Sunday (11 am ET | FS1 & Telemundo in United States; TSN in Canada) to stay alive in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
They can get out of Group F, but it won’t be easy. Croatia are a better team than Belgium right now, the only difference being they’re perhaps not as strong up top or in goal.
Before the Group F finale Thursday against Morocco, here’s the lineup I think Herdman will turn to in Doha – possibly even getting our country’s first-ever men’s World Cup victory and goal.
One big change I could see? Atiba Hutchinson heading to the bench.
Atiba is one game away from the 100-cap milestone, but is he up for three games in eight days? That's hard after a long time out at Beşiktaş. He could still sub on, but starting may be a lot to ask.
From there, I see Samuel Piette and Jonathan Osorio coming in alongside Stephen Eustáquio to form a three-man midfield. Croatia’s strength is in the center of the park with Mateo Kovačić, Marcelo Brozović and Luka Modrić. That’s their strongest point and they’re very good at maintaining the ball and dictating play, like we saw in their opening 0-0 draw against Morocco.
So for Canada, the key is getting experience out there to disrupt Croatia – especially Modrić. He’s 37, but don’t forget he won the Ballon d'Or award in 2018 and is still one of Real Madrid’s best players. For someone like that, their quality never goes away.
Some may call for Ismaël Koné to start, but I think he's more of a wild card coming off the bench. He can add to the game with a profile that's more attacking.
I’m going with two up top: Jonathan David and Cyle Larin. Their partnership was so good during the Concacaf Octagonal, and now they must execute and finish off the chances they will create against Croatia.
Execution and decision-making will be key. Against Belgium, they demonstrated they could attack, they could be in the box. But at the end of the day it was the final-third choice – shooting when you should pass, passing when you should shoot – or that little moment that was lacking. That's what makes the difference in those games.
You can guarantee Croatia are paying more attention to Canada now after they outshot Belgium 22-9 and carried large portions of that opening game. But what that also showed was the difference between a No. 2 and a No. 41-ranked team in the world. The details of being a top-10 or top-five country, or at least a contender in a World Cup, that's what it comes down to.
Tajon or Richie?
This was the toughest call in my lineup. You keep Milan Borjan in goal, the three center backs are the same and of course there’s Alphonso Davies on the left. But the right wingback spot is harder to lock in.
I think Herdman goes with Tajon Buchanan, it’s just a gut feeling I have. Herdman wants to have his best players on the field, and I think he’s in that group.
I could talk myself in circles with this one because I could see Herdman staying with Richie Laryea. That was the surprise inclusion against Belgium (I had Sam Adekugbe starting), and Richie played so well you almost don't want to change it.
This one’s basically a coin flip because both players bring so much when they’re out there. But I have Tajon for now, and Laryea will probably be on the field with him at some point in the end anyway.
One add-on, as we’re talking about the backline: The Alistair Johnston links to Celtic, he has the tools to play anywhere. His football acumen provides that potential, and he's fast enough, smart enough. When you're at a World Cup, interest grows and that game vs. Belgium has probably sold teams that were looking at him. This is what the World Cup does. You perform well and a new opportunity arises. It'd be good for him, good for Montréal.
Herdman’s now-famous comments that they’re going to “‘F’ Croatia” have become the topic, at least in the media, before the game. Now, I do believe you never should try to stimulate the opposition, no matter if they're better than you or not, not give them any tools.
But at the end of the day, after a lively and vivid Belgium game, a sense they could or should have come out with something better, the emotions took over. Herdman is usually very methodical and very planned. Everything is thought through and he resonated the message he gave the group, but to the public usually those two are not always intertwined.
Is it enough to say that’s fueled Croatia? Croatia are at the Belgium stage in terms of their quality. They've been around the block and are playing really well. They know what needs to be done on the field. They have right now, the experience of being finalists at Russia 2018 and what it takes in these games.
And Herdman said there were no intentions. He only said what you usually maybe don't hear, exactly what he said to his group. Was it uncharacteristic of himself? I think so and it isn’t the worst thing.
Also, if I take it outside the box, people aren't mentioning Davies missed a penalty against Belgium. They're talking about what Herdman mentioned about Croatia. It takes a lot of pressure off Canada and centralizes it on their coach. These things are complex.
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