AL RAYYAN, Qatar — After the final whistle, after Canada had been eliminated from the 2022 World Cup with a 4-1 loss to Croatia on Sunday, its goalkeeper Milan Borjan stood in the middle of a huddle of his teammates and waved his arms as he spoke.
According to the Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson, Borjan reminded his teammates of how far they had come, told that they still possessed talent despite their performance, and encouraged them — four years before Canada co-hosts the next World Cup — that they would keep getting better.
Even reaching this far was an accomplishment. Canada toppled the United States and Mexico en route to winning their qualifying group and ending its 36-year World Cup drought. Once in Qatar, Canada showed flashes of its tantalizing potential — it outplayed Belgium in the teams’ opening match but lost, 1-0. But in its loss to Croatia, Canada then showed how far it has to go before it can expect to contend at the highest level.
“You’re playing on a world stage, there’s a lot of quality, so there’s things that we’re going to have to learn as a team,” said Hutchinson, 39, who made his 100th international appearance for Canada on Sunday. “We didn’t get the result we wanted but we’ll learn from this and these mistakes that we made and we’ll get better and better, and the next World Cup will be in Canada. We’ve got great players and have more and more coming through the system. We just have to be ready to do what we’ve been doing.”
The 2026 World Cup will be jointly hosted by Canada, the United States and Mexico, and in its expansion to 48 teams all three host countries are expected to qualify automatically. But Canada will certainly want to show more than it did in Qatar. With several standouts who are 25 or younger and play in some of the top leagues in the world — Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich in Germany), Jonathan David (Lille in France), Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge in Belgium) and Stephen Eustáquio (F.C. Porto in Portugal) — that may possible.
“I know the future for this team is really bright and there are a lot of lessons in this World Cup,” defender Steven Vitória said. “We’re going to keep working to close gaps against the best teams in the world.”
Canada still has one more group stage game left in Qatar, against Morocco on Thursday. It has already done better than its only previous trip to the World Cup — Canada went scoreless and winless in Mexico in 1986 — but that is not good enough for Davies, its best player and the scorer of its only goal in Qatar.
“For me, I keep dreaming and keep believing and keep pushing,” Davies said after the loss.