How Canada can earn its first men's World Cup point(s) against Morocco
Canada plays its final match of the men's 2022 FIFA World Cup on Thursday and it comes against a Morocco side that has thoroughly impressed thus far.
After defeating Belgium and drawing against Croatia, a point is now enough for the Atlas Lions to secure a place in the Round of 16. A win, though, would put the African side top of the group and thereby avoid Group E’s expected winner Spain.
In short, Canada is going up against a very good team that has plenty to play for. Here are the keys to pulling off an upset and earning the country’s first point(s) at a men’s World Cup:
RE-ESTABLISH TACTICAL IDENTITY
It can both be true that Canada was thoroughly outplayed by Croatia’s midfield and that the team could have been better set up to mitigate the threats of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic.
With Atiba Hutchinson struggling to keep up and Stephen Eustaquio suffering a hamstring injury, the real estate in that area of the pitch came at a severely discounted price to Croatia and should have been addressed sooner.
Hutchinson even admitted after the match that Canada uncharacteristically lost its shape and so a response is needed.
Tactical nous has been a hallmark of Herdman’s career and in the opening match against Belgium. This match presents an opportunity to show the Croatia match was an anomaly.
With the midfield fitness concerns, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see 20-year-old Ismael Kone earn his first start of the tournament, and his pace and dynamism should be well suited for Morocco. Jonathan Osorio may also be likely to figure after impressing twice as a substitute.
CREATE CHAOS IN MOROCCO’S ORGANIZATION
Morocco has been one of the most defensively organized teams at the World Cup to this point and are yet to concede a goal.
In fact, Morocco has now gone 622 minutes without conceding across all competitions.
It will be a major test for Canada to crack through a Morocco back four that includes Premier League duo Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd, as well as Sofyan Amrabat, who offers protection as a defensive midfielder in front of them and is having an excellent tournament.
If Canada can’t break through the middle, it will come down to what can be accomplished on the wings through the likes of Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan who have been key to the team’s attacks thus far.
WIN THE PACE BATTLE
Unlike Croatia and Belgium, Canada won’t head into this matchup with a significant advantage in speed.
Canada’s Davies and Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi are two of the fastest players on the planet while the likes of Noussair Mazraoui, Hakim Ziyech, and Sofiane Boufal are pacy with the ball at their feet as well.
Sam Adekugbe may get his first start of the tournament at left-back after Richie Laryea played there in the last match. He would only add to the pace Canada already has on offer in the form of Davies, Buchanan, and Jonathan David.
STRIKE FORCE NEEDS LIFT-OFF
Better late than never, David and Cyle Larin need to figure into the equation more strongly than they have through two matches.
Larin did play an integral role in Canada’s first goal at a men’s World Cup but struggled to have any influence after that and was substituted to start the second half.
David had one quality shot saved against Croatia but on the whole has been underwhelming when facing goal. He seemed to force the issue against Belgium but looked a bit more comfortable in the second match, so hopefully third time’s the charm for the Lille forward.
Canada looked a physically and emotionally drained side over the course of the match against Croatia.
The understandable adrenaline rush of Davies’ goal 67 seconds in was overcome by a Croatia side that has been there, done that and was completely unfazed in seeking solutions and wearing Canada down knowing there was virtually the entire match to play.
Even for coach Herdman, he seems to have learned from his comment in the heat of the moment before the Croatia match and has been very respectful of Morocco as this match approaches.
This is all part of the learning curve for a young Canada team and this match against Morocco will be a good test to see how quickly they’ve learned from past lessons.