“We weren’t afraid of anyone,” defender Steven Vitória said. “We kept going forward, trying to play that attacking style. We are proud of that. We will continue to work to close the gaps and test the best teams in the world. This is where we want to take our country.”
At this World Cup, Canada earned style points, if not actual points, in their first appearance since their tournament debut in 1986. Defensively, however, they couldn’t keep up with Croatia, who scored eight minutes lead before the break and added two second-half goals to move into a first-place tie with surprising Morocco.
Group F favorites Belgium sit on three points after losing 2-0 to the Moroccans earlier on Sunday. Group F will conclude on Thursday with Morocco facing Canada and Croatia playing Belgium. Two will advance to the round of 16.
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Regardless of how they go in the finals, the Canadians “left a positive image of what we want for the future,” Vitória said.
The future will undoubtedly continue to feature Alphonso Davies, a former refugee from West Africa who has become a global star at Bayern Munich. The 22-year-old winger made Canadian history Sunday with the early goal.
“To know people back home from east to west were celebrating somewhere,” coach John Herdman said, “was a great moment. We got to celebrate something we’ve been waiting for a long time.”
The good vibes didn’t last long. Andrej Kramaric scored the first of his two goals and Marko Livaja broke the deadlock.
The Croats said they were encouraged by Herdman, who used an expletive during a television interview after the 1-0 defeat to Belgium to describe what his side would do to Croatia. Croatian media have pointed out in the preparation of this match.
“I want to thank Canada’s coach for the motivation,” Kramaric said through a translator. “He could have chosen different words. He could have worded it differently. In the end, Croatia showed who did who.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, architect of the improbable 2018 run in Russia, exchanged greetings with Herdman before the match. Afterwards, however, they did not cross.
“That’s his way of doing things,” Dalic said. “He was definitely crazy. He is a high-quality professional, but he will need time to learn some things.”
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Canada was speaking first. The sequence of goals started with a long drive from the goalkeeper Milan Borjan and in a few seconds the ball entered the net.
Cyle Larin connected with Tajon Buchanan on the right side. Dashing into the box, Jonathan David dragged center back Dejan Lovren with him, who created an attractive channel. Davis accepted the invitation.
After starting his run from a deep position, he made his decisive move. Josip Juranovic didn’t see Davies coming and had no chance of winning Buchanan’s lofted cross. Davies stepped up for a run, 10-metre header.
The Khilafa International Stadium was transformed into a festival of red-clad Canadian entertainers.
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In the 1986 tournament debut, Canada lost all three games by a combined score of 5-0. In the following decades, it repeatedly failed at the Concacaf qualifying stage. Earlier this year, the drought ended after finishing first, ahead of regional powers Mexico and the United States.
On Sunday, Canada kept up the pressure, teasing their supporters with quick attacks and impressing neutral fans with a forward-thinking style. Before long, however, Croatia figured out how to contain Davies.
The pace became too fast and the game too open to remain a 1-0 game.
In the 36th minute, Ivan Perisic slipped the ball past the onrushing Kramaric in the corner of the six-yard box for a low shot into the far corner.
Croatia continued to take advantage of Canada’s open space and tepid defence. In the 44th minute, Juranovic broke away from midfield, past the graceful Davies and back into the centre. The Canadians closed, but after losing control, Juranovic touched the ball between Vitória’s legs to Livaja, who drove home with a low shot from the top of the penalty area.
Canada’s hopes were all but dashed in the 70th minute when Kramaric set himself up for a left-footed cross from 14 yards. Lovro Majer added a goal in stoppage time.
“Every one of the players that have been on the field, from the first game to this game, they’ve played with the right mindset and they’ve played without fear, they’ve played with courage,” Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson said. “But of course, we were playing on a world stage with a lot of quality [on the other teams]. There are things we will have to learn. We didn’t get the result we wanted. But we will learn from this. And we’re going to get better at it.”
World Cup in Qatar
USMNT: The United States faced England in the second game of the World Cup on Friday. The match ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving the United States feeling good about their performance, but also leaving Group B extremely undecided heading into Tuesday’s finals.
Political protest: The immediate backdrop to Iran’s World Cup campaign is a nationwide protest movement at home targeting its clerical leadership, and the tensions, inevitable and ongoing, are spilling over onto the pitch.
Prospective: Nice game is good. Suitcases full of money are better. Read Sally Jenkins on Qatar’s human rights controversy.