Canada eliminated from World Cup with crushing loss to Croatia

It looked promising early on, but the experienced Croatian side was too much to handle as Canada's World Cup came to a disappointing end.
It looked promising early on, but the experienced Croatian side was too much to handle as Canada's World Cup came to a disappointing end. (Getty) (Getty Images)

With one group-stage game still to play, Canada has been officially eliminated from the 2022 FIFA World Cup following a 4-1 loss to Croatia.

Alphonso Davies scored Canada's first-ever World Cup goal in the second minute, heading an inch-perfect pass from Tajon Buchanan into the net.

The Canadians had a good first 20 minutes or so, but Croatia took over from there, as Andrej Kramaric notched a brace, while Marko Livaja's 44th-minute strike stood as the game-winner. Lovro Majer added a fourth goal in extra time, after Canada's Kamal Miller committed a brutal turnover as Canada pressed in desperation.

Croatia and Morocco have already gained four points, rendering Canada's final group stage game against Morocco as a mere formality.

Here are three takeaways from Canada’s crushing loss to Croatia.

Alphonso Davies makes history for Canada

There was one bright spot from an overall dreadful showing Sunday. Alphonso Davies scored the first-ever goal for the Canadian men’s side at the FIFA World Cup, heading in a perfect cross from Buchanan in the second minute, before sprinting towards the corner flag in ecstasy. It’s a moment that will be replayed across Canadian homes and sporting academies for decades, even if the circumstances of the result may dampen the feeling.

The goal sent Canadians everywhere into a frenzy. This is just one snapshot of Real Sports, a popular sports bar in Downtown Toronto.

"I’m very happy for the moment. To get the first goal in the World Cup for Canada. I keep dreaming, I keep believing, I keep pushing," Davies said post-game.

Davies’ tally was the fastest goal to start any game of the 2022 tournament, and it helped Canada grab some momentum early. Through the opening 20 minutes, Canada was the better side and Davies embodied the game plan. He was everywhere on the pitch, winning balls back, while making a number of dazzling runs through the attacking third with blistering pace and technique. And then, it all went to hell.

We’ll go over this in further detail below, but Croatia dominated Canada from a technical level, and Davies’ teammates often let him down — wasting the space he created for himself.

Of course, we’ll always remember Davies’ goal, and he was Canada’s best player, but that comes with some caveats — it surely wasn’t perfect. Davies’ free kick in the 62nd minute was driven straight into the wall, and the attacking flair he showed during the opening 45 minutes mostly disappeared.

There’s no need to spin a disastrous result for Canada, but at least Davies scored a historical goal. That’s the best we can offer from a tough showing.

Atiba Hutchinson’s century-mark match could've gone better

Atiba Hutchinson became the first player to reach the century mark for Canada, making his 100th international appearance for the red and white on Sunday. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. It feels somewhat cruel to attack Hutchinson, given that he’s the stalwart carryover from truly uninspired years of Canadian football. But the truth is Hutchinson was pretty awful in this one.

Hutchinson was completely out of sorts in the first half, as the 39-year-old lost track of Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric in the box, directly leading to the equalizing goal. He also failed to stop Josip Juranovic from cruising into the attacking third before setting up Marko Livaja’s game-winning goal.

Hutchinson’s lack of pace or capacity to advance any Canadian move was apparent. There was a near-unanimous feeling among the Canadian die-hard supporters to take Hutchinson off at halftime. Herdman brought on Ismael Kone and Jonathan Osorio to replace Cyle Larin and Stephen Eustaquio, respectively, at halftime, and while the Osorio substitution originally seemed inspired, fans were left wondering why Hutchinson remained on the pitch.

During Croatia’s third goal — Kramaric’s second of the contest — Hutchinson was caught flat-footed once again, letting the proverbial dagger go through his legs, and Croatia knew it had cemented a massive victory in Group F. In fairness to Hutchinson, he wasn’t the only one standing around. Kamal Miller was far too passive in his close-out attempt and would later commit a brutal turnover that directly led to Lovro Majer’s insurance goal in the dying minutes. But it was a direct encapsulation of Hutchinson’s miserable night.

Herdman later revealed he thought Hutchinson had some good moments, and that the veteran wanted to stay in the game even as he struggled. It’s nice to respect the elder statesman, but it showed an appalling lack of urgency from both leaders not to make a move.

Croatia’s superior tactical ability limited Canada in transition

There’s no shame in losing to the 2018 World Cup finalist but there is shame in how you go about it.

Canada practically spelled out its game plan during the opening minutes and it briefly worked wonders. Get the wingbacks to blaze past the older Croatian side, turn it into a track meet in transition and be disciplined while pressing a midfield that can attack you with long-range passes. This version of the Croatian team has seen it all, they weren’t going to get rattled by going down 1-0 in a group stage match, even if the stakes were crucial.

Croatia kept Canada narrow. If Canada uses the full width of the pitch, Davies, Buchanan and Larin create a gravity effect as defenders will have to account for their timely, crashing runs. But Croatia forced Canada to try to beat them through middle and it worked out wonderfully for them.

Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic put on a possession clinic in the final 75 minutes of the contest, working tirelessly to win the ball back and constantly finding holes in Canada’s defense. They sprayed long passes to switch the direction of play and lulled their opponent to sleep consistently. Perisic recorded two assists while Kovacic basically taunted Hutchinson, Osorio, Eustaquio and Buchanan, daring them to press aggressively.

Herdman’s remarks about Canada needing to “F Croatia” won the tabloids, but in the end, the Group F leaders didn’t need any added motivation. But surely you can’t fault them for gloating.

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