A Cinderella run in the World Cup wasn't meant to be for Canada.
The Canadians' mission in Qatar is not over yet, though, with their final game of the group stage set to be played against Morocco on Thursday.
Despite Sunday's humbling 4-1 loss to Croatia, Canada is still holding its head up high and is focused on taking three points to leave the tournament with something to look back on.
"This group has been chasing and reaching history throughout this journey," midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. "There are a lot of records that have been broken and new records set. We'll keep going on that journey."
While they may be going home after Thursday, Canada can rest easy knowing they've made history in their Qatar adventure, scoring the nation's first ever goal in a men's World Cup.
The scorer of the iconic goal, budding superstar Alphonso Davies, is well aware of the significance of the piece of history he created only 68 seconds into the game against Croatia.
"When I headed it down and I ran to the corner flag, I looked to my left and I just saw all my teammates running towards me," Davies said Tuesday. "Yeah, it was a great feeling. We've waited for this moment for a long time and it finally came and we were happy."
The euphoria was short, however, with Croatia storming back to score four unanswered goals to end Canada's hopes of advancing to the knockout stages of its first World Cup in 36 years.
All eyes are now on Morocco, who will enter Matchday 3 with their sights set on qualifying for the Round of 16 after upsetting Belgium 2-0 on Sunday. The two sides traded blows for the majority of the game before Moroccan captain Romain Saiss broke the deadlock by getting the slightest touch on a tight angle free kick. Zakaria Aboukhlal doubled their advantage with a goal in added time to secure a historic win for the African nation.
A win would see them book a guaranteed ticket to the next round, while a draw or loss would leave their fate in the hands of Belgium, who almost certainly need a win to move on.
Morocco will be seeking to advance to the Round of 16 for the first time since 1986, while Canada will be hungry to grab the three points they feel they've earned with some inspired performances so far in Qatar.
"We still have another match, and we need everyone to stay behind us because we're still trying to break new history," defender Alistair Johnston said. "We're still looking for that first result, so that Morocco game is gonna be a great chance for that.
"We're looking forward to that, and that's kinda where the group's mindset is at right now."
While a win, or even a draw, would only provide consolation to the players and legions of soccer fans back home, the experience could go a long way in developing the culture of the Canadian men's national team program, which is only just getting accustomed to this level of success and competition.
"In the end, we’re disappointed with it, but we’ve got a lot of positives that we can take from our last two games," midfielder Junior Hoilett said after Sunday's loss to Croatia. "Getting that feel for what it takes to be in a World Cup. We have to hold our heads high."
With automatic qualification all but assured for Canada for the 2026 World Cup, for which they are co-hosts along with Mexico and the United States, preparations for the next tournament begin now, and a favourable result against Morocco could re-energize a humbled team as it faces the future.
While the squad will surely look different four years from now, with some of the veterans moving on and the young stars of tomorrow entering their prime, the leadership looks like it's locked in for the long haul, with head coach John Herdman expressing his wishes to manage Canada through the next World Cup cycle.
"Eleven years of work in this country and I've been pioneering for a long period of time, and you'll not find anyone as passionate as I am about this program or about these players or about this staff," Herdman said Wednesday. "You'll not find one as passionate who wants to take the country to that next level. And you'll not meet anyone that's experienced this moment with this team — and the learning that I'll take from this to take into the next one.”
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