Canada head into the World Cup injured for the first time in 36 years

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Canada’s coach John Herdman spoke about the thrills forward Alphonso Davies felt upon arriving in Doha this week – Canada’s first appearance at the World Cup in 36 years.

“He’s really excited,” Herdman said on Saturday as Canada take on Belgium next week. “Who wouldn’t be when you see an 80ft poster of yourself as you drive into your hotel.”

But some of the thrill has already passed for Davies and Canada. The poster could even be false advertising if Davies is unable to enter the field.

Bayern Munich’s rising star and Canada’s top player may not be able to play against Belgium as he picked up a hamstring injury that kept him out of recent World Cup warm-up games.

Herdman said Davies “is still building towards top speed. But it hasn’t reached that top speed yet.”

“With hamstring injuries, there’s always a crucial moment,” Herdman added. “That’s when the Achilles tendon is pushed, pushed to its limit.”

Herdman hasn’t said it outright but has hinted he tends to keep him out against Belgium in hopes he’ll heal for the Group F games against Morocco and Croatia.

The top two teams in each of the eight groups qualify for the round of 16.

Herdman said Belgium are probably the best team Canada have faced since beating Brazil more than a decade ago.

“We have to get this right because it could be a long tournament for Canada,” Herdman said, meaning Canada could surprise and get through the group stage. “And that’s the last thing I want is for Alphonso to miss that.”

Injuring Davies is bad enough. But two other Canadian top players are also questionable through injury: the capable midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and goalkeeper No. 1 Milan Borjan.

Some would say they are Canada’s top three players.

Eustaquio has an unspecified injury and Borjan complained of a stomach ache in Canada’s 2-1 win over Japan in Thursday’s friendly in Dubai. Borjan was withdrawn from training on Saturday.

“That’s the life of a coach,” Herdman said. “I mean it’s bleak on one side, but on the other it’s an opportunity.”

Nothing new for the Canadians, who, despite repeated injuries to top players, finished first in qualifying from the CONCACAF region. Still, Canada defeated Mexico 2-1 at home and 1-1 at Mexico City’s treacherous Aztec Stadium.

Canada also defeated the United States 2-0 in qualifying and at home, and there was a 1-1 draw in Nashville.

“We played several games without Alphonso Davies in qualifying and did really well,” said Canadian midfielder Samuel Piette. “We don’t want to miss these guys. We want these guys on the pitch. But at the same time, it is the one who is willing to take the call.”

Piette reiterated what Herdman and other players have mentioned – the small chip Canadian players carry on their shoulders.

“We want to shock the world and show that Canada is a serious football country and a serious team,” said Piette. “And hopefully we’ll start off on the right foot against Belgium.”


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