Canada had their official World Cup campaign end Sunday with a 4-1 loss to Croatia. Canada now travels to Al Thumama Stadium for a contest with the Atlas Lions who are riding the high after producing a 2-0 victory over Belgium.
Canada started their World Cup campaign last Wednesday, suffering a 1-0 loss to Belgium. But after the defeat last week and the loss over the weekend to Croatia, midfielder Atiba Hutchinson remains hopeful that the team can show up to ruin Morocco’s chances.
“We want to finish on a good note. We haven’t had any points on the board in a World Cup. So, we want to finish with three points and kind of hold our heads up after,” Hutchinson said after making his 100th appearance for the country on Sunday.
Canada made history Sunday when Alphonso Davies scored Canada’s first goal ever at a World Cup. Now Les Rouges want to continue making history by earning their first ever point(s) at a World Cup.
“We need everyone to stand behind us. We’re still trying to break new history. We scored our first ever goal which was a really special moment. Now, we’re still looking for that first result,” defender Alistair Johnston told the media after training on Monday.
Canada will aim to play freely on Thursday but still manage to be professional to continue their growth on the world stage. Stephen Eustaquio remains questionable for the game, though, as he suffered a minor injury during the game against Croatia and signalled to come off, sequentially, coming off at halftime. However, with Canada’s depth in midfield, don’t be surprised to see the FC Porto midfielder sit out in the final game of the World Cup.
Because it is a quick turnaround of games and several players have yet to see some action in the World Cup, expect to see minor rotation in the Starting XI, with probable deserved starts from both Jonathan Osorio and Ismaël Koné in the midfield.
Canada could easily lean on attacks from Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David along with quick tempo passes from the midfield pairing Herdman decides to go with. Every player should more or less be available at Herdman’s disposal Thursday, along with Davies quickly returning to form once again after a faultless performance from the Bayern left-back over the weekend, scoring Canada’s first ever goal at a World Cup.
“We came to the World Cup to make history and that’s what we’re trying to do. We want something out of it. We’re not gonna make it easy, we’re gonna go out there like it’s the first game of the tournament and play as hard and as possible,” Davies told reporters on the upcoming fixture during a media conference Tuesday.
We’ve seen with John Herdman’s setup during qualifications to adapt to new structures and formations, usually rotating between a 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2. Playing with three central defenders and quick wing-backs is likely the preferred approach against Morocco, though, as it allows Canada to take advantage of its intense pace down the wings. Davies’ positioning will be interesting, too, as he can stay out wide or float into central areas if Herdman decides to play with two strikers in Jonathan David and all-time leading scorer Cyle Larin.
The Hungry Lions
After finishing fourth in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, Morocco entered the 2022 World Cup for the first time since 1998. Having drawn to Croatia last week and earning themselves a 2-0 win over Belgium on the weekend, Morocco will be looking to advance past the group stage for the first time since 1986.
Newly appointed Walid Regragui takes charge of the national team after the sacking of the previous head coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, (who had been at the helm since 2019) just two months before the World Cup.
The Atlas Lions are expected to play more on the defensive side and will look to launch quick counter-attacks when possible. As Regragui had limited time to prepare, he will be relying on his dynamic full-backs, Noussair Mazraoui and Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi to provide width and attack along the wings.
Incredibly fast, and equally capable of making good crosses, the 24-year-old Hakimi is an offensive threat Canada’s backline will have to pay close attention to. Hakimi makes a noticeable contribution from his presumed defensive position, especially when combined with Noussair Mazraoui on the left side, and having already proven himself at club level, the 24-year-old is Morocco’s key to qualifying for the knockout stage.
32-year-old captain Romain Saiss will look to lead the backline from a defensive standpoint and has a great aerial presence, while Chelsea forward and veteran winger Hakim Ziyech leads the frontline, who is returning to the squad after not being called upon by the former coach earlier in the year. Ziyech has represented his country in 45 previous international appearances and can be a constant threat when cutting in from the right wing. In addition to his powerful left foot, Ziyech will be dangerous on set pieces as well.
Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri’s scoring touch hasn’t been one to test opposition since recovering from a muscular injury in late 2021. Once a prolific frontman for Sevilla, En-Nesyri has found the net just five times in La Liga since the start of the 2021-22 campaign. Without his presence up front, Morocco lacks anything close to an established finisher.
Head to Head
Canada has played Morocco three times, most recently during an international friendly in October 2016. Jonathan Osorio, Samuel Piette, and Milan Borjan were among the starters for that game, with a 29-year-old Steven Vitória on the bench.
The 2016 friendly saw two goals from none other than Hakim Ziyech, scoring each from the penalty spot. Rachid Alioui, who misses the 2022 World Cup due to injury, and Mehdi Carcela-González were the other goal scorers for Morocco which saw them lead to a 4-0 victory.
Other Group F action on Thursday sees Croatia looking to keep their World Cup hopes alive as they take on Belgium at 10:00 am EST.
Canada will have the final opportunity Thursday, to leave a lasting impression for global audiences as this will be the last time they appear on the world stage until they host the tournament in 2026. Kickoff is 10:00 am EST, 7:00 am PST.
When: December 1, 2022
Kickoff time: 10:00AM (EST), 7:00 am (PST)
Stadium: Al Thumama Stadium (Al Thumama)