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Keep calm and qualify for World Cup, says Canada coach

By AFP - Mar 23,2022 - Last updated at Mar 23,2022

Canada international football coach John Herdman (AFP photo)

LOS ANGELES — Canada coach John Herdman believes calmness will be crucial as his team attempts to clinch a first World Cup place in 36 years with victory over Costa Rica on Thursday.

The unbeaten Canadians have been the revelation of the CONCACAF region’s qualifying tournament, surging four points clear at the top of the standings with 25 points from 11 games heading into this week’s final round of three fixtures.

After taking a maximum nine points from three games in the last window, with wins over Honduras, the United States and El Salvador, Herdman’s side need only two points from their remaining three games to be certain of qualifying for the World Cup.

That means a win over Costa Rica at Estadio Nacional in San Jose on Thursday would secure Canada’s first World Cup appearance since the 1986 finals in Mexico. 

A draw could even be enough to qualify if Panama, currently fourth in the rankings with 17 points from 11 games, fail to beat Honduras.

Herdman said he has prepared his squad for this week’s final round of fixtures by encouraging his players to have the “humility to start again”.

“There’s a lot of things we can gain in this window and a lot of things we can lose, and ultimately that opportunity to go to Qatar,” Herdman told Canada Football. 

“So it’s an intense focus on that one game against Costa Rica as a starting point. That’s our opportunity to finally put this team into a World Cup where it belongs.”

Herdman, however, has every confidence in his team’s ability to prevail. Canada’s away form has been a cornerstone of their qualifying campaign to date.

“In every game, we’ve adapted to the climate, the altitude, the crowd, the conditions, the suspensions, the players not there through Covid,” he said. “The mentality is to win every match. To push this team to new levels. But do it in a way that respects the conditions.

‘Tough enviroment’

“This will be a tough environment and this game will be one of our toughest tests.”

Although it would require a freak sequence of results to deny Canada a World Cup berth, Herdman says there will be no drop-off in intensity this week despite his team’s comfortable points advantage.

“You have to show that being one point away is as important as a team that’s maybe seven points away. It doesn’t change our mentality coming in,” he said 

“They’re in our way. We want to get to Qatar. That one team stands in our way from doing it. And we’ll be bringing a passion and an intensity to that match like all of our matches.

“We’ve got to bring that fight and that passion and be adaptable like we’ve been, but just be calm. 

“It’s a big moment but it’s one we can handle if we stay together and remain calm.”

Sealing a World Cup place would complete a remarkable transformation for Canada that began when Herdman was appointed to take over the men’s team in 2018 after a successful spell in charge of the Canadian women’s team.

At the start of the 46-year-old Englishman’s reign, Canada was languishing in 94th place in the FIFA World Rankings. 

Four years later, the team had climbed to 33rd in the rankings — Canada’s highest ever rankings position.

After a raucous home win over the United States in January, Herdman said Canada’s success marked the “first time I felt I was living in a football country”, uniting the country’s diverse population behind the team.

“This is what we’ve dreamed of — to get people excited,” Herdman said. 

“The Canadian people who’ve always had to wear an Italian shirt or a Serbian shirt or a Greek shirt. 

“They can put them down and pull on a Canadian jersey now and be proud of us as a football country.”

While Canada closes in on a landmark qualification, the situation is less certain for the United States and Mexico. 

The two heavyweights from the Central America, North America and Caribbean zone meet at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on Thursday with their fates in the balance.

With 21 points each, a win for either side would leave the victor within touching distance of qualification. Defeat however could plunge the loser into a potential battle to avoid an intercontinental play-off.

After Thurday’s assignment in Mexico City — where no USA team has ever won in qualifying — the Americans face a home against Panama on Sunday before a potentially awkward final trip on the road against Costa Rica.

Gregg Berhalter’s side will be without Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Matt Turner and Sergino Dest for the final round of qualifying.

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