The CanMNT is getting set to kick off their March World Cup qualifying window with a match against Costa Rica on Thursday, a game in which they can book their ticket to the 2022 Men’s World Cup. Ahead of then, here’s a look at how they’re feeling about that, as they get set for a game of a lifetime down in San Jose, Costa Rica.
It’s all led up to this.
17 games of hard work. And heck, it’s even more if you include all of the friendlies, Nations League and Gold Cup matches that have gone along with it.
But now, it’s the moment that the CanMNT has been waiting for since their run to qualify for the 2018 World Cup ended unceremoniously on September 6th, 2016. In fact, it’s been a moment that they’ve waited for since the summer of 1986, even if they might not have realized it at first.
That, of course, is Thursday’s special match, in which Canada will take on Costa Rica on matchday 12 of 14 in the ‘Octagonal’, the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
There, they’ll have a chance to do something that they’ve been waiting 36 long years to do – qualify for the men’s World Cup.
Knowing that a win over the Ticos in Costa Rica will get it done (or even maybe a draw or a loss in some cases), this is about as good of a chance as any that Canada has had to make the big dance in years, as they look to secure their second-ever qualification to the World Cup.
So because of that, the excitement is understandably palpable in the Canadian camp. They understand that history is on the line here, and they’re eager to go out and get the job done.
“Of course, we’re always excited to win,” Canadian forward, Lucas Cavallini, said on Wednesday. “We’re just 90 minutes away from a World Cup qualification, we just have to live in the moment that we’re in. Stay humble.”
At the same time, Canada made sure to caution that while this game has the potential to go down in the history books, this is also just like any other game. As with all the other games that have preceded it on the journey, it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be physical, and it’s going to require a strong performance from them across 90 minutes to emerge with a victory.
“It’s (been) the same mentality and focus since the beginning, when this all started,” longtime Canadian veteran, Steven Vitoria, said of this game. “Now we know that we have an opportunity, we’re possibly 90 minutes away from putting our country in a World Cup, it’s fantastic.”
“As always, we’re respectful of Costa Rica, we know that it’s going to be a real fight, and we’re just going to focus on this game, and like all of the others, give it our all for the points.”
And speaking of Costa Rica, it’s going to be interesting to see what the Ticos bring to the table on Thursday.
A longtime veteran of CONCACAF, they were a force in this region for much of the 2010s, making the World Cup in both 2014 and 2018, making them a team to beat in these sorts of big moments.
But heading into this Octo, it felt like those days were starting to come to an end for them now. They were still a good team, without a doubt, but they didn’t have that same aura that made them such a force years ago, making them an afterthought heading into these games.
Except no one seemed to give them that memo.
They started slow, failing to grab a win until their 5th game of the Octo, and through 7 games, they had just 6 points. Because of that, they were far off the pace required to sit in the top 3 and the automatic qualification to the World Cup that comes with it, let alone the 4th placed intercontinental playoff spot that also is there.
But then, they started to find themselves again. And thanks to that, they were able to rescue their qualification hopes, going on a 4-game undefeated run, winning 3 of those 4 games, putting them within 1 point of the top 4 and 5 points of top 3 heading into this match.
And because of that, it’s really boosted belief that the Ticos can make it back to the World Cup now, extending their run of qualifications for that tournament to three. Based on their form, it’s hard to dispute that claim, either, and that’s something that Canada will have to make sure to watch out for here.
The good news is that they’ve been paying close attention to their Central American foes, and feel that they shouldn’t be too surprised by anything that they’ll throw at them, but it’ll certainly be something that will loom over this match.
Costa Rica is all-in for this game, and while Canada will have the same mindset, they have to be ready for what their opponents will try to bring to them.
“I think they’ve been evolving and growing as a team, and you can see it,” Canadian head coach, John Herdman, cautioned ahead of this one. “They’re unbeaten now in 4 matches, 3 clean sheets, they were able to remain unbeaten against Panama, Mexico and Jamaica, 3 tough games in the last window.”
“And what I’ve seen is that they’re buying in, and they’re buying into the coaches philosophy, which is a really tight defensive unit, and then you’ve seen what they’ve done, which is to suspend their league for 2 weeks, they’ve been in a training camp for 10 days, training twice a day, getting organized for this game, so the Costa Rica that I’ve seen in November is going to be very different the one that we experience in San Jose.”
And by all-in, they’re really going all-in.
Obviously, as Herdman noted, they’re going all-in from a competitive standpoint just by having an extended training camp, but that’s not the only form of advantage they’re looking to bring to this game.
For example, it’s worth noting that this game will be played in front of 35 000 raucous fans, most of them Costa Ricans, at San Jose’s Estadio Nacional on Thursday.
Why is that important, you might ask?
Well if you know that stadium, you might know that is the max capacity for the venue, meaning that this game is sold-out, the first time all Octo that Costa Rica have been able to do that, with pandemic restrictions keeping them to limited crowds in all of their other home matches.
So with Costa Rica desperately needing points to keep their World Cup alive, they’ll be happy to know that they’ll also have the boost of a strong crowd, one that will look to give their all to give an edge for their team.
From the hours before the match, where they’re expected to welcome the team bus with smoke, flares and firecrackers, to throughout the game itself, where they’ll look to cheer all throughout the 90 minutes, it’s expected to be a rowdy atmosphere, one that might not be unlike anything Canada has faced up until this point.
Because of that, it’s important that Canada doesn’t get drawn into that whole spectacle, because while it’ll certainly be something to behold, it’s there to throw them off their game, and they’ll have to be ready for that.
“First and foremost, we know that this is a good team fighting for their lives,” Canada’s Jonathan Osorio noted. “They’re fighting for their chance to keep their chances alive to (even) be at the World Cup, so we know what to expect. We respect this team, at the same time, we know who we are, and we’re going to go out there and play with confidence.”
“I mean this is it for them, this is their last chance in order to make the World Cup,” Cavallini added. “But we’re worried about ourselves, we’re fearless, if they want to go physical, we can go physical, too. We’ve shown our character, we’ve shown that we can go to battle.”
And it’s that mentality that Canada will look to draw from here. Yes, it might be unlike something they’ve faced so far, but it’s not like they’re strangers to these sorts of environments.
There’s a reason why they’re the lone team undefeated on the road in the Octo, having grabbed results in some tough locales along this journey, so if anything, they’re just looking to add another one to that tally on Thursday.
At the end of the day, through all that they’ve faced, the one thing that has got them through each tough moment is their ability just to lock in on what they need to do to win, and then go out there and execute it.
It’s easier said than done, of course, but their results only speak for themselves, so when they talked about that mentality on Wednesday, you can’t help but believe them when they say that they’re staying firmly focused on what they need to do to win.
“We need to play our game,” Cavallini said. “Every game we come prepared, and tactically we’ve been better and better, in the team, each game we’ve been getting stronger and stronger, and we’re going to take that to our advantage tomorrow.”
“We’re going to focus on what we can control,” Vitoria added. “And that’s just going to be to show up with that fight, and leaving it all out there, and we know that when we do that, we’ll be a lot closer to winning, and push our country to a World Cup.”
So for Canada, that leads them quite nicely to this game. As seen here, it’s going to be a tough match, yes, but it’s nothing they’re unprepared for.
Because of that, it makes the mission simple for Thursday – go out, play hard, and make history, something that they’re ready to now make a reality.
“Yeah, it’s a mature group, even though there are a lot of young kids, it’s a mature group,” Vitoria finished. “We know what’s upon us, we know the responsibility, we know that it’s not just us that will be on this field, it’s going to be our whole country.”
“But we’re focused on the moment, we’re going to embrace it, and do what we always do, and leave everything out there, and hopefully punch our ticket to qualify for the World Cup.”
Up Next: Canada vs Costa Rica, Thursday, March 24th, 2022, 19:00 PST, 22:00 EST (Estadio Nacional Costa Rica, San Jose).
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer