FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Croatia vs. Canada Sunday, Nov. 27 at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar



Now that the Canadian men's national team has dipped its toes into World Cup waters, their second Group F match -- this time against Croatia -- may come with a touch less fanfare than the opener versus Belgium.

That may well be a good thing for Canada, who might have dispensed with some of their first-match jitters after what was an undoubtedly impressive, but in some ways frustrating, first taste of this tournament.

None of that is to say this game will be without any fanfare, though. Anyone who's paid attention to the international football press in recent days might have seen how John Herdman seems to fashioned himself as somewhat of a villain in Croatia. His heat-of-the-moment expression after the Belgium game -- in which he said that he told his players they belong here, and that they were going to "go and eff Croatia next" -- seems to have raised some eyebrows in Europe.

Although Herdman did later clarify he meant to disrespect whatsoever, at least one Croatian tabloid fired back on Friday with... uh... whatever this is (viewer discretion advised, perhaps?).

For Canada, it could certainly be a good thing that international media is now more focused on Herdman than on any of the players -- particularly Alphonso Davies, who might otherwise have been subject to more of a critical spotlight after missing his penalty. Of course, there's a degree to which Canada will want to back up their outward confidence on the pitch, but so far every single time they've been challenged in such a way they have been up to the task.

"The Croatian team deserves respect form everyone," Croatia manager Zlatko Dalić said in his prematch press conference Saturday. "We have proven that by the way we play, by our conduct during the World Cup. Since the very beginning we have deserved respect and dignity. We have two medals in the last 30 years... We respect everyone equally, so we expect our opposing teams to respect us."

Herdman, on the other hand, took a more tongue-in-cheek tack, though he did say Canada's players and staff have been well-shielded from what's being said in the press.

"When you get a text from your wife telling you you need to start working out before you get home, you think you know something's going on," he said. "I think generally we're in a really light, bright, clear place. If anyone knows how I operate, I'm just on mission... I'm loving it, I'm loving the experience. I got to ride a camel last night at training."

This will all be settled on the pitch on Sunday, of course. Canada enter this second game, once again, as underdogs, against a Croatia team ranked 12th in the world.

The Vatreni, in their iconic red-and-white checkerboard kits, will pose a formidable challenge for the Canadians. They're led by 37-year-old captain and Real Madrid star Luka Modrić, who will be joined in perhaps the best midfield trio at this tournament by Chelsea's Mateo Kovačić and Inter Milan's Marcelo Brozović.

Modrić won the Golden Ball as player of the tournament at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where Croatia went on a remarkable run all the way to the final, losing to champions France. They banked an outstanding nine of nine points in a group that included Lionel Messi's Argentina, Nigeria, and Iceland, and they beat Denmark, Russia, and England en route to the championship match.

This current Croatia side, still managed by Zlatko Dalić, has just eight players returning from that World Cup runner-up squad, but those that do remain form the talented backbone of this team.

Croatia qualified for this World Cup -- their third in a row, and sixth of seven attempts since becoming an independent FIFA member in 1994 -- by topping Group H in UEFA qualifying. In the six-team group, the Croatians finished ahead of Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta, posting seven wins, two draws, and just one loss (away to Slovenia).

More recently, Dalić's side have been in good form in the UEFA Nations League. Playing in a tough League A group against Denmark, France, and Austria, Croatia finished on top, going unbeaten against both the Danes and the French.

They entered the World Cup on a five-match winning streak, and have lost just one of their last 17 games -- that lone defeat being a 3-0 loss to Austria in June. Prior to that, Croatia's most recent loss was to Spain in the round of 16 at Euro 2020.


PROJECTED STARTING XIs


Croatia: Livaković; Juranović, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Brozović, Modrić, Kovačić; Vlašić, Kramarić, Perišić

Canada: Borjan; Johnston, Vitória, Miller; Laryea, Eustáquio, Hutchinson, Adekugbe; Buchanan, David, Davies

ALL-TIME SERIES


First meeting between these teams.

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee: Andrés Matonte (URU)
ARs: Nicolas Taran (URU), Martin Soppi (URU)
Fourth Official: Kevin Ortega (PER)
VAR: Mauro Vigliano (ARG)

KEY QUOTES


"This is a serious national team. If you're first in the group and behind you are USA and Mexico, that's a great team. This great team demonstrated themselves against Belgium, high pressing and they played progressive. They matched the Belgian actions and they ran a lot... They deserved to win more than to be defeated. We have to exercise caution." -- Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalić

"ICanada surprised us all against Belgium, the distance covered and the high pressing they did. Belgium could not respond to such a game. In my view that was the key to their great play. We in our second match we have to be very fast, we have to adopt an aggressive attitude. Still we are Croatia, let's face it. If we play our game we will have a positive outcome." -- Croatia winger Ivan Perišić

"This is a massive game. Canada are playing Croatia at a World Cup. We get a chance to play against Modrić, Brozović, Kovačić. Just great players. Hell of a match coming. -- Canada head coach John Herdman

"There were times when playing Bermuda was exciting and now we are here... I think before the tournament we were favourites to not do a good job in this group, but we outplayed Belgium, so anything can happen in this group." -- Canada midfielder Stephen Eustáquio

Continue reading...