Canada enters 1st World Cup in 36 years plagued by injuries

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Canada coach John Herdman spoke of the excitement striker Alphonso Davies felt upon arriving in Doha this week – Canada’s first appearance at the World Cup in 36 years.

“It’s very exciting,” Herdman said Saturday with Canada opening next week against Belgium. “Who wouldn’t be when you see an 80ft poster of yourself when you drive into your hotel.”

But some of the buzz has already gone to Davies and Canada. Perhaps the poster is false advertising even if Davies cannot take the field.

The Bayern Munich star and Canada’s best player may not be able to play against Belgium, picking up a hamstring injury that has prevented him from warming up at the recent World Cup.

Herdman said Davies was “still building towards top speed. But it hasn’t reached that top speed yet.”

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“When you have hamstring injuries, it’s always the key moment,” Herdman added. “That’s when the hamstring is pushed, pushed to its limits.”

Herdman didn’t say it outright, but suggested he was leaning towards keeping him out against Belgium, hoping he’ll improve for games against Morocco and Croatia in Group F.

The top two teams in each of the eight groups progress to the knockout round of 16.

Herdman said Belgium was probably the best team Canada has faced since playing Brazil more than a decade ago.

“We have to get this one right because it could be a long tournament for Canada,” Herdman said, meaning Canada could surprise and survive the group stage. “And that’s the last thing I want is for Alphonso to miss this.”

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Having Davies injured is bad enough. But two other key Canadian players are also questionable with injuries: playing midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and No. 1 goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

Some would say they are Canada’s three best players.

Eustaquio has an unspecified injury, and Borjan complained of abdominal pain in Canada’s 2-1 win over Japan on Thursday in a friendly in Dubai. Borjan was kept out of training on Saturday.

“That’s the life of a coach,” Herdman said. “I mean, it’s bleak on one side but it’s an opportunity on the other.”

This is nothing new for the Canadians, who finished first in qualifying from the CONCACAF region despite frequent injuries to top players. Despite it all, Canada beat Mexico 2-1 on home soil, and drew 1-1 at Mexico City’s dangerous Aztec stadium.

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Canada also defeated the United States 2-0 at home in qualifying, and drew 1-1 in Nashville.

“We played several games without Alphonso Davies during the qualifying period and we did very well,” said Canadian midfielder Samuel Piette. “We don’t want to lose these guys. We want these guys on the field. But at the same time, that’s who is ready to answer the call.”

Piette echoed what Herdman and other players have mentioned – the little chip Canadian players have on their shoulders.

“We want to shock the world and show that Canada is a serious soccer country, and a serious team,” Piette said. “And hopefully we start on the right foot against Belgium.”


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