Road to 2026 FIFA World Cup commences in Curacao for Canada

To shared

The road to the 2026 FIFA World Cup begins Saturday for the Canadian men’s national soccer team.

Canada will play its first game since competing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this past winter, when they face Curacao in a Concacaf Nations League contest (9 p.m. ET, OneSoccer) at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad, Curacao.

Canada will return home to host Honduras on Tuesday at BMO Field to conclude its preliminary group play in the tournament. The Canadian men have not played since losing 2-1 to Morocco at the World Cup in Doha, Qatar on Dec. 1.

Canada defeated Curacao in the first leg of the home-and-home format, winning 4-0 in Vancouver, prior to heading to the World Cup.

“They’ve been able to strengthen in positions that they were weak in,” said Canada head coach John Herdman on Friday. “They were able to add some players from the Netherlands who play in their top league there and they added a fullback from the Turkish league that Sam Adekugbe has seen play.

“They’ve strengthened, and I think the big difference as well, is that game that we played them in Vancouver, they were coming off the back of two games and they had a heavy travel schedule. This will be a fresh, motivated, intense Curacao team; it should be a good game.”

Canada is looking to finish a top of its three-team group to qualify for the Concacaf Nations League Finals taking place June 15-18 in Las Vegas.

The tournament will see the four group winners advance to the finals. The group winners and runners up will also advance to the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup, taking place in July.

Canadian players gathered from around the world during the current international window.

“It’s been a positive week,” Herdman said. “We’ve been able to set out the elements of the journey now moving through from Qatar to 2026 and focusing in on some of the tactical areas that we’re going to be working on through the week and building on through our games.

“Looking through that long-term evolution of the team and our future road, we have to dial it right back to two important matches in this window.”

As a co-host of the 2026 FIFA World Cup with the United States and Mexico, Canada will get an automatic berth into the expanded 48-team tournament.

The three host nations won’t have to go through a qualifying process and therefore Herdman wants to make the most of tournaments such as the Nations League, Gold Cup and hopefully the next Copa America, which is expanding to include North American teams along with 10 South American sides.

“We can’t take anything for granted,” Herdman said. “There is a complacency trap when you come out of the back of a World Cup and you have three long years before the big event again. People can be in a mentality that they can take their time to get somewhere.

“The big thing for us, is to identify those small gaps to close (from Qatar) every camp and we’ve been trying to close gaps this camp and implement some fresh ideas around our tactical blue print and brining in some fresh faces.”

Playing its first game back in Curacao won’t be easy for Canada. They are going from climate-controlled stadiums with pristine grass fields in Qatar to hot, muggy conditions on an uneven playing surface.

“It’s similar to being Haiti (World Cup qualifying), the same sort of pitch, where it’s going to feel like every touch the ball is going to bounce up on it,” Herdman said. “From an attacking perspective, you’re really going to have to show that level or resilience where you have to fight through those mistakes which are inevitable. Both teams are going to make errors and so it’ll be who capitalizes on them most.

“It’s a pitch were you can play football, but it’s certainly going to be with some risk, and I think both teams have that mentality to play. So, I think there will be a few situations where we teams will be able to capitalize because of the conditions.”

To shared