Alphonso Davies celebrates Canada’s first World Cup goal ever. (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)
Canada head coach John Herdman must have been projecting, rather than predicting.
After his team dropped its World Cup opener to Belgium earlier in the week, Herdman said: “We’re going to go and F Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”
Then again, maybe not.
It was the Croatians, runners-up at the 2018 World Cup, who were on the front foot in the Group F match after a slow start as it registered a 4-1 victory at Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar on Sunday.
The loss eliminated the Canadians (0-2-0, 0 points) from the competition with one game remaining in the group stage. Canada, which finished atop the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying tournament was the first Concacaf side to exit Qatar 2022. The United States, Mexico and Costa Rica are still alive to reach the knockout round.
The Maple Leafs shocked group leader Croatia (1-0-1, 4) with a second-minute goal as Alphonso Davies headed in Tajon Buchana’s right-wing cross. It was Canada’s first World Cup goal, after going scoreless at its previous appearance in the 1986 tournament.
For the first 15 minutes, Canada looked like to stronger team, but as the opening half wore eon, the European side found itself and holes in the Canadian defense as it grabbed the momentum.
It paid off handsomely in the 36th minute as Andrej Kramaric equalized from a difficult angle.
Eight minutes later, the Croatians took the lead and never looked back.
Marko Livaja, off a Josip Juranovic assist, fired a shot from outside the box into the lower left corner for a 2-1 edge.
Croatia never allowed the Canadians to rediscover its momentum and enjoyed the advantage for the rest of the match. The team added an insurance tally by Andrej Kramaric in the 70th minute before Lovro Majer put an exclamation point on the game, scoring from the middle of the area off on an unselfish feed from Mislav Orsic four minutes into stoppage time. Canada defender Kamal Miller made a critical mistake on the sequence, allowing the ball to travel through his legs to set up Croatia a 2-on-1 break.
Canada will close out its World Cup against second-place Morocco (1-0-1, 4) on Thursday. Croatia takes on third-place Belgium (1-1-0, 3) the same day.