Canadian soccer team tweaking play ahead of World Cup in Qatar

·3 min read

VANCOUVER — With Canada's spot at the 2022 World Cup clinched, the men's national soccer team is looking at how it can tweak its game before taking the field in Qatar.

The team came together in Vancouver this week, where it will host Panama in a friendly match on Sunday.

The Canadians want to get results and see good performances during the current international window, said defender Alistair Johnston, but they're also working on how they want to play when the World Cup begins in November.

“We understand that it's kind of adapt or die, especially when you're going on to that next level," he said. "So we're going to try out some new things. And this is the best place to try them out.

"You don't want to be trying them out in match one against Belgium. You'd rather try them out now and try to work out the kinks and the flaws in the system before we get there.”

The Canadians know there are just two international windows left for the team to work on its systems before the big tournament begins, said defender Doneil Henry.

Currently ranked 38th in the world, Canada begins its World Cup journey on Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before taking on No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.

"It's a quick turnover, knowing how quick the World Cup is approaching," Henry said. "So getting back with the boys getting some rhythm, new ideas, everybody's optimistic and looking forward to getting minutes under their belts."

No. 61 Panama wasn't initially on the Canadians' schedule for this international window. Canada was set to take on Iran in a friendly on June 5 but the matchup drew heated criticism, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying it "wasn't a very good idea."

An Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8, 2020 shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.

Canada Soccer cancelled the game on May 26 and Panama was named as the replacement opponent on May 31.

While the South American squad hasn't clinched a World Cup berth like Iran is, Panama is a familiar foe for the Canadians. The two teams faced off in Panama City at the end of March, with Panama taking a 1-0 win as Canada closed out its qualifying campaign.

Canada is 4-6-2 all-time record against Panama, including 4-0-0 at home.

"We're happy to have any game for this window," said Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini. "I mean, every game is going to be preparation for us. And it doesn't matter the rival, we're going to be setting up the way we want to and preparing ourselves well for the World Cup."

At 29 years old, Cavallini has long been a part of the national team, playing 31 games in a Team Canada jersey.

The journey to the World Cup has seen the group grow in new ways, he said.

“Every cap, things just get better and better and the team gets stronger. The union is much better, much higher," he said. "So I’m more than happy to be a part of this. Our country is in a great place right now.”

After hosting Panama on Sunday, Canada will kickoff CONCACAF Nations League play against No. 79 Curacao at B.C. Place on June 9. They'll then head to San pedro Sula to take on No. 82 Hounduras on June 13.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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