Soccer North: Underdog Canada ready to stun top-level competition in FIFA World Cup

Soccer North: Underdog Canada ready to stun top-level competition in FIFA World Cup

The wait is almost over.

Only five days separate the Canadian men's national soccer team, ranked 41st in the world, from a match against No. 2 Belgium (Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET) to kickoff its campaign in the FIFA men's World Cup.

Canada's last bit of action before its first game on soccer's biggest stage in 36 years, was a last-minute 2-1 win over No. 24 Japan on Thursday, and surely added confidence and momentum to the team.

Now it's go time, and the 26 players ready to represent Canada in Qatar want to do it big.

"I think the players are clear that they want to go as far as they can and shock the world," Canada head coach John Herdman told Andi Petrillo on the latest episode of CBC Sports' Soccer North.

"But at the same time, it's been very clear of the small steps. Can we get our first goal? Can we get our first clean sheet? Can we get our first result? Can we get our first win? Can we get out of the group stage?"

WATCH | Episode 4: coach John Herdman joins the show:

Soccer North airs every Friday on CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports YouTube channel. During the World Cup, the show will air live following all of Canada's games for as long it remains in the tournament.

Given Canada's only World Cup appearance in 1986 finished with zero goals scored and three losses in three games, Herdman sees the tournament in Qatar as a huge opportunity for the men's national team to continue to make history following an unprecedented unbeaten run in CONCACAF qualifying play.

"I know if we score our first goal, this country is going to rock from East to West. It's going to be a huge cry across the whole country because we never celebrated a goal on this stage before," said Herdman, who managed Canada's women's national team from 2011 to 2018 before switching to the men's squad.

"We got so much opportunity to pioneer here. It's about keeping the team really connected and making sure some players are really pushing some personal bests. And, that at the end of it, we're proud of the memory that we've created here."

WATCH l 1-on-1 with Herdman ahead of World Cup:

Former Canada's men's soccer team goalkeeper Craig Forrest also joined Soccer North, vouching for Milan Borjan, who now serves as Canada's starting goalkeeper, and to chat about the upcoming fixture with Belgium.

"With the quality that we have up front and with what John Herdman will do, putting teams under pressure, it's going to be a difficult task for Belgium to keep a clean sheet," said Forrest, who had 56 caps for Canada from 1988 to 2002.

Forrest, a former Chelsea, West Ham and Ipswich Town player, won the 2000 Gold Cup for Canada's only title in the competition and earned MVP honours in the process. He believes not shying away from attacking and trying to hurt the likes of Belgium and No. 12 Croatia is the way to do it.

"They don't know other way to play. They don't put 11 people behind the ball. It's not what Canada has done, it's not what they're really good at. Why start doing it now?," said Forrest. "Keep playing to their strengths, the players are going to really appreciate it and they're going to get a chance to score some goals."

WATCH | 2000 Gold Cup winner, MVP Craig Forrest discusses Belgium game:

Canada will also face 2018 runner-ups Croatia on Nov. 27 at 11 a.m. and No. 22 Morocco on Dec. 1 at 10 a.m in group play. Belgium placed third in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The two top-ranked teams from each of the eight groups will advance to the round of 16.

Episode 4 closes with an interview with Canadian centre back Doneil Henry, who missed out on making the World Cup roster due to a late injury sustained in the warm up to a friendly match against Bahrain last Friday.

WATCH l CBC Sports' Andi Petrillo sits down with Doneil Henry:

WATCH | Soccer North trailer: