How Canada made it back to the World Cup after 36 years

When qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar started, Canada was no. 73 in FIFA's global rankings but a memorable and historic run through CONCACAF means the men in red will line up on the game's biggest stage for the first time since 1986.

Video Transcript

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- When it comes to this story, it's not easy to identify an exact starting point. It could be 1986 in Canada's first and only appearance at the World Cup. It could be the humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras just a decade ago. Or was it when John Herdman took the reins, or perhaps when Canada was named one of three hosts for the 2026 tournament?

Or maybe it was when Alphonso Davies officially acquired his citizenship and committed himself to the program once and for all. But for the purposes of this exercise in tracing Canada's steps on the road to Qatar in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it begins with Canada as the number 73 ranked team globally and number seven in CONCACAF when the qualification round began in July of 2020.

By virtue of its humble ranking, Canada had to compete in all three phases of the qualification process. In phase one, Canada emerged as the lone advancing team in a round-robin series with Suriname, Bermuda, Aruba, and the Cayman Islands.

27 goals, 4 to just 1 again, saw the Canadians through into the second round and a home and away tie with Haiti for the right to enter the octagonal and compete in the final stage of qualifying in CONCACAF for the first time in 20 years. Canada eliminated Haiti, winning 4-0 over two legs, with Cyle Larin scoring once in each victory. And that would hardly be the last we'd hear from him. Canada's home match versus Haiti was actually staged in Bridgeview, Illinois, as the COVID-19 pandemic complicated matters in June 2021. But the Canadians would make no such concessions when the third round of qualification began just a few months later.

Canada managed a 1-1 draw in its opener at home for real this time versus Honduras, but stated its intentions in the tournament three days later in Nashville versus the United States. It was Lahren's equalizer in the 60-second minute and a hard fought point on the road, which served as a statement from Canada early on in the process.

But it was another draw about a month later which really showed that this team had ambition. Canada stifled Mexico at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on matchday four, securing another point on an equalizing goal, this time from Jonathan Osorio. It was the first time in 41 years that Canada earned a result at the Azteca.

In fact, in the five meetings across that same time period, Mexico had outscored Canada 20 to 0. Now front runners and now not just the team with guts to deliver when down, Canada took seven of the next 9 possible points on the table, with the highlight being an Alphonso Davies goal that captured international attention versus Panama at BMO Field in Toronto. Momentum was building, and Canada had one final game in 2021, a rematch versus Mexico at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, or a venue now known as the Ice [INAUDIBLE].

Two more goals from Larin-- the second of which sent teammate Sam Adekugbe leaping into a snowbank in celebration-- lifted Canada to its first victory over Mexico in a World Cup qualifier since 1976. Time off had no ill effects. Canada defeated its first three opponents in the January window, including a 2-0 victory over the United States at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

Proving they were the superior side versus their forever rivals, the Canadians had not only all but sewed up qualification, but solidified their positioning atop the group. It was a resounding victory over Jamaica and 3 points on the second-to-last match day, which saw Canada punch its ticket officially to Qatar, where the story will continue.