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These players will be key if Canada is to find success in Qatar

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL. SOURCE PHOTOS: VAUGHN RIDLEY, CLAUS ANDERSEN, JUSTIN EDMONDS, MATTHEW STOCKMAN/GETTY, GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/GETTY

Canada is making its first trip to the World Cup in 36 years in Qatar and will be hoping it does better than its only other appearance, in 1986, which ended with three games, no goals and no points.

Head coach John Herdman has been blessed with a generation of top talent to turn around a struggling team. The Englishman previously took the women’s national team to third place at back-to-back Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016, before making the jump to the men’s team in 2018. He has built the squad around stars such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, and has steadily achieved better – and more consistent – results over his tenure.

That consistency paid off with a remarkable rise in the FIFA rankings in 2021-22, as the team sailed through qualifying as the group leaders while notching wins over regional powerhouses Mexico and the United States. Here are five Canadians to watch as they make their World Cup debuts.


Alphonso Davies

Left-back/forward

Canada’s first bona fide men’s soccer star will be closely watched as he leads the team in its second World Cup appearance. He’s the face of the team and his social-media savvy on Twitch and TikTok has helped him and the national team reach a generation of new fans.

The left-back is known for his speed, particularly his ability while dribbling. He often makes marauding runs up the pitch joining the attack, but is relied on just as much for his speed in defending counterattacks.

He’s the youngest player to represent the men’s national team and is the reigning CONCACAF player of the year. His performances in qualifying matches – including a spectacular goal against Panama – helped lift Canada into the finals and he’s expected to be a key driver of the team’s success in Qatar.

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Born to Liberian parents in a Ghanaian refugee camp in 2000, he grew up in Edmonton and began playing soccer with local clubs in his childhood. He joined the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2015, becoming the second-youngest person to appear in a Major League Soccer match the next year.

Three years later, he moved to Bayern Munich, Germany’s biggest professional team, in what was then an MLS record transfer fee. He’s become a starter at Bayern and won most major titles with the team, including the continental treble (league title, domestic cup and Champions League) in 2020. He’s the first Canadian international to win Europe’s biggest club competition.

He missed several months at the beginning of the year and Canada’s final six qualifying matches because of heart-related complications after having a COVID-19 infection. But he returned to action this fall and just weeks after his 22nd birthday, Davies will be a key piece of Canada’s hopes to reach the knockout rounds.


Atiba Hutchinson

Centre midfielder

Canada’s player with the most national team appearances, 97, the captain and aging talisman will cap his career on soccer’s biggest stage. Whether he will get to see action on the field is in doubt because of a lingering injury, but he will regardless be a huge leader in the dressing room. The 39-year-old Brampton, Ont., native made his national-team debut nearly 20 years ago in January, 2003, and has been a near constant on the team since. He played in several northern European leagues before moving to Turkey’s Besiktas in 2013. The midfielder is a six-time winner of the Canadian player-of-the-year award whose calm demeanour and deft passing have helped steer the team for years.


Cyle Larin

Forward

Canada’s record goal scorer will be looking to keep the goals flowing in Qatar. He made his international debut in 2014 and has logged more than 50 caps since. The Brampton native was selected first overall in the 2015 MLS draft by Orlando City and set the rookie goal-scoring record, notching 17 goals to earn the rookie-of-the-year award. He moved to Besiktas in 2018, where he helped the team win the league championship in the 2020-21 season with 19 goals. This past summer he transferred to Club Brugge in Belgium. The 27-year-old has 25 goals for the national team and led all CONCACAF scorers with 13 in qualifying matches. Along with fellow star forward Jonathan David, Larin will be hoping to get Canada on the World Cup scoreboard.


Jonathan Osorio

Centre midfielder

Osorio has been an integral part of Canada’s midfield heading into Qatar. The 30-year-old holds the record for most Toronto FC games. He grew up in nearby Brampton, where he played youth soccer, before moving to Uruguay to play at Nacional’s academy for two years. He has been a TFC stalwart since making his first-team debut in 2013, including helping lead the team to an MLS Cup title in 2017 and to the final of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, picking up the Golden Boot award with four goals during the team’s run. Osorio had been dealing with a neurological injury over the summer, but is on track to be a key figure for Canada in Qatar.


Milan Borjan

Goalkeeper

Canada will be relying on Borjan to mind the sticks against some of the fiercest attacking teams in the world. The 34-year-old goalkeeper was born in Knin, in what was then Yugoslavia. His family fled to Belgrade during the war and immigrated to Canada in 2000, settling in Hamilton. He made his national-team debut in 2011 and has been the starting goalkeeper since late 2012. After bouncing around Eastern European clubs, he found his way back to Serbia in 2017, where he’s the captain of Red Star Belgrade. In World Cup qualifying, Borjan was key to ensuring Canada’s home wins against heavyweights Mexico and United States, with a goal-line save in stoppage time against the former and a clean sheet against the latter.

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