There is already incredibly little margin for error at the World Cup, but the further a team progresses, the smaller that margin gets. Canada were excellent in their World Cup opener performance-wise, but at the end of the first matchday, they sit last in the group after a 1-0 loss to Belgium. Les Rouges will now almost certainly need their first-ever World Cup result against Croatia in their second group stage match on Sunday (11 a.m. ET) should they want to keep hopes of advancing alive. A Canada loss, combined with a win for either Morrocco or Belgium, played just prior to Canada's match, would eliminate Canada from knockout-round contention. Here are three things to watch for as Canada take on Croatia in their second group match at the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Expect an even bigger test from a motivated Croatian sideIn many ways, Canada put the soccer world on notice with an outstanding performance in their first match of this World Cup against Belgium, despite the loss. But with "notice" being the keyword, there will be no catching Croatia off guard in their second match of the tournament the way perhaps they did the Red Devils. Croatia will come into this game fully expecting a fight, and more to the point they will need to put up one themselves after drawing their opening match. Much like Canada, after drawing their opener against Morocco 0-0, a loss in this match would put them at significant risk of not reaching the knockout stages, just four years after appearing in the 2018 World Cup final. That match, against Morocco, will also have given Croatia an opportunity to perhaps shake some rust out of their game. While they controlled most of the ball in that match (65 per cent possession), Croatia managed just 0.52 expected goals and Morroco had eight shot attempts to their five. Then, of course, comes Canadian manager John Herdman's now-viral comments immediately after Canada's loss against Belgium that said his side was going to "F Croatia" in this match. That comment has been all over Croatian tabloids, and caused their manager, Zlatko Dalić to say that his side should be treated with much more respect. All of this combines to suggest Croatia will be right up for this match, and that Canada will need to raise their level as well to make that intensity. It won't get any easier from here for Canada.
Canada goes up against one of the world's best midfieldsThere is no question that the strength of this Croatian side lies in the quality of their midfield. Their starting trio of Luka Modrić (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovačić (Chelsea) and Marcelo Brozović ranks among the best in the world and will present an immense test for this Canadian team. The incredibly experienced and balanced midfield is exceptional on both sides of the ball. They are adept at holding possession as well as dictating the tempo and shape of a match, whether they have the ball or not. Modrić, at 37, remains as quality as ever and will be the key playmaker that Canada will have to limit, in the same way they were able to relentlessly mark Kevin De Bruyne. It will be intriguing to see how Herdman chooses to combat this tactically. Stephen Eustáquio and Atiba Hutchinson were excellent against Belgium, but could likely use another midfielder to match the three Croatia will deploy. Be that Jonathan Osorio or Ismäel Koné it might be wise to make that change to add extra help in the middle. With that in mind, the most important step will probably be to neutralize the Croatian midfield as much as possible, taking away their time and space as they did so well against Belgium. Then, it will come down to what Canada can do on the flanks, both in terms of pushing Croatia's dangerous fullbacks back into the final third and freeing up players like Richie Laryea and Buchanan to push forward and cause issues.
Canada will need more bravery/composure in front of goalEssentially the only thing missing from Canada's first match at the World Cup was a history-making goal. They did just about everything else right in the buildup, but in the final third looked nervous and indecisive, perhaps the weight of the moment getting the better of the team's attackers. The generally composed Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan and Alphonso Davies all snatched at chances throughout the 90 minutes. Despite having 22 shot attempts, creating three big chances and 2.61 expected goals, Canada only managed three shots on target (two from open play). Shots were often rushed and not hit cleanly. Other times players had opportunities to shoot where they ordinarily would have and instead took an extra touch or looked to make a clever pass when they could have just smashed the ball goalwards. Canada will almost certainly get significantly fewer opportunities on Sunday against a Croatian side who have been one of the best in the world defensively this year. They have allowed more than a single goal against just once this year in 10 matches in all competitions. That includes clean sheets against both France and Denmark. Against Belgium, Canada was taught a lesson in the importance of taking chances when they present themselves. Proving that they have learned that lesson will be central to getting a result against Croatia. One area where Canada's attack can perhaps also improve is from set pieces. Often a key difference maker in short tournaments like this, especially for lower-ranked teams, Canada had four corner kicks and several other good opportunities from free kicks but consistently tried to be too clever or precise instead of just delivering the ball to a dangerous area where they could attack. These are opportunities against Croatia of which they will have to make better use.