The Canadian men’s national team has never not lost at the FIFA World Cup. Four matches, four losses. Six goals conceded, zero scored. Sunday’s match against Croatia can change all of that. It has to if Canada are to live to fight another day in Group F.
After a disappointing loss to Belgium in which Canada was the better of the two sides for large portions of the match, the Canucks must now avoid defeat if they are to have any hope of advancing out of their group.
No matter the result of Sunday’s other Group F encounter between Belgium and Morocco, if Canada lose to Croatia they will be mathematically eliminated from competing in the knockout stage before they even take the pitch against the Atlas Lions on December 1st.
Canada head coach John Herdman has stolen almost all of the headlines in advance of kickoff after his fiery post match interview, and the response from the Croatian media.
Perhaps it’s all part of the plan à la José Mourinho. Or perhaps the massive occasion got the better of Canada’s usually calculated leader. Regardless, Les Rouges need to turn a positive performance against Belgium into a positive result against Croatia.
Herdman noted that he has a “full roster to choose from” in his pre-match media availability on Saturday, maybe a subtle hint that there could be some changes to the lineup.
Canada’s typical 3-4-2-1 matched up well against Belgium’s back three, but Croatia poses a different shape and challenge.
Though the personnel has changed, the system remains the same from Croatia’s run to the 2018 World Cup final. Zlatko Dalić almost always lines up the Vatreni with four defenders and a three-man midfield, looking to dominate time on the ball and utilize the strength of their midfield to pass their way through the opposition. Expect to see the trio of Marcelo Brozović, Mateo Kovačić and Luka Modrić in the middle of the park at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Croatia’s recent form highlights the fact that they are a side which attacks efficiently and defends resolutely. The Balkan nation hasn’t conceded more than one goal in a match in their last seven outings, with four clean sheets along the way. That run includes two wins against Denmark, as well as a win and a draw against the French. Joško Gvardiol, one of the best young defenders in the game, will likely start alongside the veteran Dejan Lovren in the heart of the Croatian defence.
The attacking output has been more of a worry for Croatia, especially following their goalless draw with Morocco. Croatia held most of the possession and sprayed passes around endlessly, but couldn’t finish their limited chances.
There are some question marks surrounding who Dalić should start at striker. Andrej Kramarić struggled against Morocco, with the Hoffenheim forward having scored just once in his last six international appearances. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Bruno Petkovic get the nod up top as he can excel with his back to goal.
After taking the game to Belgium, it will be interesting to see Canada’s game plan in this next match. Croatia will demand to be on the ball more than the Belgians did, but in need of a result, Herdman may push his side to press high up the pitch once more.
A change in shape could be in the offing for Canada if Herdman feels the need to match the four defender formation of Croatia. The system seen against Belgium may change to a classic 4-4-2. Sam Adekugbe could step in at left-back, with Cyle Larin playing from the start beside Jonathan David as Canada aims for their first-ever World Cup goal.
Herdman rarely selects three central midfielders and a World Cup match doesn’t seem like the time to tinker too much with tactics. Stephen Eustáquio may have to be a bit more conservative as he keeps tabs on Luka Modrić. Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan should be given plenty of freedom to get high up the wings.
One matchup to look out for will be Alistair Johnston versus Ivan Perisic on Canada’s right. Croatia lack a natural winger on their right, so much of their attacking play goes through the Spurs wide man. His speed and craft will need to be accounted for. Johnston was solid against Belgium and the Celtic-linked defender will need to be alert once again.
Sunday’s match kicks off at 11a.m. ET and can be watched on TSN.