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Canada had a good performance in this year’s World Cup, but there is still plenty of work to be done

Michael TaubeWhen Canada qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, many hoped it would result in a better performance for the men’s soccer team than it had in Mexico in 1986.

Fortunately, it did.

Canada lost all three games it played in 1986 against France (1-0), Hungary (2-0) and the Soviet Union (2-0). We didn’t score a goal in our inaugural World Cup appearance, the only country to achieve this unfortunate statistic. They were overmatched in each Group C match, although losing to the seeded French side by only a goal was encouraging.

Our men’s side wasn’t quite ready for the world stage in Mexico. Nevertheless, it was an important learning experience that helped build the nucleus of a more competitive team.

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It took an additional 36 years, or nine World Cups, for Canada to make its second appearance. While we lost all three games in Qatar, there was a notable improvement.

A close 1-0 loss to Belgium, the second-ranked country in the world (who also missed the Round of 16, or knockout stage), could have been different if Alphonso Davies hadn’t flubbed his penalty kick. Croatia beat us 4-1, but we had good moments against the 2018 finalists – including Davies scoring Canada’s first-ever World Cup goal within the game’s first two minutes, which enabled us to lead for over 30 minutes. The final match, a 2-1 loss to Group F’s surprise winner, Morocco, was a close contest where Atiba Hutchinson’s attempted equalizer went under the crossbar and missed crossing the goal line by inches.

A good performance, all things considered.

On the flip side, Canada became only the third team in World Cup history after Mexico and El Salvador to lose its first six matches. The men’s team has recorded two goals at two World Cup tournaments – and the second, against Morocco, was an own goal by Nayef Aguerd. We’ve been shut out in four of the six matches we’ve played and had 12 goals scored against us.

There’s plenty of work still to be done before Canada co-hosts the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and the U.S.

The two other North American hosts also had their struggles before becoming upper-tier squads. Mexico is currently ranked ninth in the world. They lost their first nine matches over four World Cup appearances but gained experience and reached the quarter-finals in 1970 and 1986. They are regular features in the Round of 16, although they barely missed the knockout stage in Qatar. The U.S. is ranked 15th. A surprise semi-finalist in 1930, they had a few tumultuous decades until hosting the 1994 World Cup and reaching the 2002 quarter-finals. They’ve achieved some Round of 16 appearances, including in 2022.

There’s an important silver lining for the Great White North in this tale.

Canada finished first at this year’s Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) third round of World Cup qualification. The world’s 38th-ranked team beat out seven other countries to earn this honour.

Who did we finish ahead of? Mexico, which had the same number of points (28) but was behind in goal difference. The U.S. tied for third with Costa Rica.

If the Canada men’s national soccer team works hard, the experience gained in 1986 and 2022 will help them immeasurably in 2026. Other things need to be accomplished, too.

More emphasis on building developmental programs will provide a significant advantage. Canada’s three teams in Major League Soccer – Toronto FC, CF Montréal and Vancouver Whitecaps FC – are set up in this fashion. The Canadian Premier League, composed of Atlético Ottawa, Cavalry FC, Forge FC, HFX Wanderers FC, Pacific FC, Valour FC, Vancouver FC and York United FC, has had an existing arrangement with U Sports since October 2018 to give student athletes a chance to play competitive soccer.

We should also follow the successful model that Japan used in the 1980s and 1990s. They brought over experienced British coaches to improve their skills and fine-tune their play. Japan hired former Dutch player Hans Ooft to coach the men’s side, and he led them to victory in the 1992 AFC Asian Cup. This helped improve the team, and they only missed out on the 2022 World Cup quarter-finals by losing to Croatia on penalty kicks.

In terms of funding, there are several ways to achieve this goal.

Federal and provincial governments should focus on soccer in a similar fashion to our Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics strategy. This financial emphasis helped turn Canada into a powerhouse in winter sports and can be employed for other sports. The private sector should also be tapped for additional funding with respect to sponsorship, one-day and two-day camps, hiring international coaches and advisers, and so on. Additional tax benefits and wide-ranging media publicity will encourage more private individuals and companies to join this effort.

Maybe we can establish a Public-Private Partnership for soccer, too.

It will take another two or three World Cups for Canada to become a contender of some measure. If we kick-start the road to 2026 as early as possible, the quest for goals, ties and even wins could be paved with gold.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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