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Men's Football Herdman's Canada aiming for World Cup return

JAMES NALTON looks at how the British coach is turning around the Canucks's fortunes

ENGLISH coach John Herdman is looking to take the Canada men’s national team to their first World Cup since 1986.

A draw with Mexico in the early hours of Friday morning, British time, was a sign of Canada’s new attitude within the Concacaf region from where they will try to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

That they could be mildly disappointed with a 1-1 draw on their opponent’s home turf at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City shows how far they have come, and how their head coach, who hails from Consett, Co Durham, has changed the mindset of the nation’s men’s football side.

“We wanted to open this game up tonight,” Herdman said after the match.

“I said that right at the beginning we had to be brave, we had to dare to lose to win, and I thought there was a lot of courage from the players.

“We’ve been growing. We were going into this match with a clear mindset that we’re coming here to win.

“That’s been built on the trust the players have created, the trust in confidence in their performances, the character and the brotherhood they’ve built.”

Herdman took charge of the men’s team after a productive seven-year stint with the historically more successful Canada women’s team, including winning a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

He has looked to take the expectations and winning mentality of the women’s team across to the men’s side of the game, while retaining involvement in the development of Canadian football as a whole.

Canada breezed through the first round of qualifying unbeaten. In their four games, against Suriname, Bermuda, Aruba and the Cayman Islands, they scored 27 goals and conceded only one.

Herdman has had to be flexible with his tactics as the Concacaf region can offer a wide range of challenges both in terms of its geography and the standard of opposition.

An 11-0 win against the Cayman Islands could easily be dismissed as a game from which nothing can be learned, but these early matches have been used to build confidence, team unity and work on tactics for moments in games when they are on top.

Now, when Canada play against the top teams in their region, these moments are increasingly common.

In the 1-1 draw in Mexico the home side, who were also the favourites, edged possession and shots, but not by much.

Canada matched Mexico for shots on target, and their expected goals (xG) tally — a good indication of the quality of chances created — was almost double Mexico’s at 1.64 to 0.85.

After the game, Herdman was asked whether such a result, which would have been celebrated in the past, was in some ways disappointing, as Canada looked good enough to snatch a victory.

“I love it that we’re getting that type of question,” Herdman replied. “That’s where we want to be, we want the three points.

“You’ve seen the way we went about the game in the second half, and we pushed right until the 90th minute to get that win in the Azteca.”

This point builds on another 1-1 draw secured last month against the United States in Nashville.

That game was fairly different in the way it panned out, with Canada having much less possession than they did against Mexico, but it shows the team have a plan for each fixture.

They sit third in the eight-team table in this final round of qualifying, from which the top three automatically qualify for the finals and fourth go into the inter-confederation playoff.

Canada have now secured two points from what are on paper the two most difficult games in Concacaf qualifying, and Herdman says the team are well-prepared to give themselves the best chance of rising to altogether different challenges against Jamaica on Sunday and Panama next week.

“We’ve looked at our three-game strategy,” the coach explained. “We said tonight we would push on, then there’s a group of guys that will be turning around and a group of guys that will be rested.

“We’ve got people with PhDs, smarter than me, who help design the loading plans through these games.

“I’ve got a group of warriors ready. I’ve got guys that are super fresh and just excited to get after Jamaica.”

The current Canada squad contain a bunch of talented players, and arguably the best player from the Concacaf region in the shape of Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich.

And it was Davies who assisted Toronto FC’s Jonathan Osorio for the equalising goal in Mexico.

They rarely get to play a full-strength side and have been affected by Covid-related absences as well as other injuries, but they were able to field Davies along with prolific Lille striker Jonathan David and promising winger Tajon Buchanan in this most recent game.

Herdman commented that during the last international window he called up 21 players, 18 of whom started at least one of the games.

This time they have called up 27 players to deal with the schedule as well as various absences, planned and no doubt unplanned, during the next week or so.

It’s this structure in support of their star players that will give Canada the chance to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 36 years, and the English coach at the helm has got them believing they can do just that.

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