Canada could cause an upset at the Qatar World Cup, with Chicago Bears kicker Cairo Santos suggesting they will "fly under the radar" in a similar fashion to Croatia.

The Maple Leafs secured a long-awaited return to the biggest tournament in world football with a 4-0 victory over Jamaica in Toronto on Sunday.

It ends a 36-year exodus from the World Cup, since Canada's only previous appearance was at Mexico 1986, where they lost all three group-stage matches without scoring against France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

But Santos – the NFL's first Brazilian player and a keen footballer as a child – feels Canada will have nothing to prove to themselves when they step out onto the pitch later this year looking to make history, drawing comparisons with 2018 finalists Croatia.

"They're certainly a team that are going to be flying under the radar," Santos told Stats Perform. "They haven't been to the World Cup.

"The World Cup is part of some history that comes with a team, and when you step on the field, the history plays a big part, too.

"If they can be that story that we saw... Croatia kind of did that at the last World Cup. So, why not Canada? They've got some exciting players, too.

"I'll be following them. Maybe we'll see a US-Canada rivalry at some time in the World Cup, too. What a time that will be."

The United States will join Canada in the finals if they avoid a heavy defeat away to Costa Rica in their final CONCACAF qualifier.

USA and Canada, along with Mexico, are hosts of the 2026 World Cup, with their sides building towards that tournament in recent years.

Led by English coach John Herdman, Canada made the semi-finals of the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup in their best result in 14 years.

 

Canada boss John Herdman said his team are "only getting started" after they ended the country's 36-year wait to get back to the World Cup.

The head coach is an Englishman, but he has a tight bond with Canada having previously led the women's team with distinction.

It meant Herdman was full of emotion after a 4-0 win against Jamaica in Toronto on Sunday guaranteed Canada's place at Qatar 2022.

"I still can't believe it," he said. "I've been preaching this belief, but when it finally happens I'm speechless.

"Canadians... we've won Champions League finals, we've got a kid [Alphonso Davies] playing in Bayern Munich, and we've got Canadians playing at all levels in Europe, and we've got Canadians going to a World Cup.

"We're a football country, that's all we ever wanted. We wanted that respect. We wanted people to believe we were a football country, and we've proved it.

"We're coming, we're only getting started here. What a privilege it has been as a coach. I'm proud for all of these people here."

Les Rouges have been the standout team in the CONCACAF section, and a first World Cup appearance since Mexico 86 now awaits them.

Speaking on Sportsnet, midfielder Jonathan Osorio said: "It's a dream come true. We all dreamed of this as little kids and as a Canadian that was impossible.

"And today the impossible happened. It's an incredible feeling."

Defender Richie Laryea added: "It's crazy, it's a great feeling. These guys, everyone on this team worked so hard for this moment. To do it here in Toronto where a lot of the guys are from, it's f****** incredible."

Osorio is a Toronto FC stalwart, and Laryea, who plays in England at Nottingham Forest, said of him: "This guy's done a lot for this programme. He's led the way. It's special to see him do this for club and country. For him to have that moment, it's big for all of us but especially him and his family. Everyone here knows who he is, so it's great."

Canada have qualified for the 2022 World Cup thanks to a 4-0 win over Jamaica in their penultimate qualifying match.

Les Rouges have been the standout team in the CONCACAF section and their participation in Qatar had long seemed a formality.

But having passed up the opportunity to make sure of their place at this year's tournament earlier in the week with their 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica, they eventually got the job done on Sunday.

Cyle Larin settled any early nerves with a clinical finish from Stephen Eustaquio's incisive pass in the 13th minute, and although Canada were rather wasteful thereafter, they deservedly made it 2-0 thanks to Tajon Buchanan's tap-in just before half-time.

Junior Hoilett's smart finish eight minutes from time was then added to late on by an Adrian Mariappa own goal as the celebrations began in Toronto.

Canada had been absent from the World Cup since the 1986 edition in Mexico, which was also their only previous appearance at the tournament – they played three matches and lost all of them.

But having unearthed something of a 'golden generation', John Herdman's side head to Qatar as no pushovers.

The Maple Leafs have suffered just one defeat in the third and final round of CONCACAF qualifying, form which has seen them beat both the United States and Mexico at home and draw away to their two biggest qualification rivals.

They climbed up to 33rd last month when the most recent world rankings were announced, making it the highest Canada have ever been on the FIFA ladder.

Regardless of the USA's and Mexico's results later on Sunday, Canada need only a point away to Panama in their final qualifier on Wednesday to win the group.

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

Interim Reggae Boyz Head Coach Paul Hall has named a 24-man squad for the final three FIFA World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras.

Sandra Naeslund claimed Winter Olympics gold for Sweden in the women's freestyle ski cross to add her name to an elite list.

The 25-year-old stormed to victory ahead of Canada's Marielle Thompson, with Daniela Maier claiming bronze after Marielle Thompson was bumped down for an infringement.

Naeslund joins Thompson and Jean-Frederic Chapius as the only freestyle skiers to have won Olympic gold, the world championship title and the crystal globe in the event.

Canada have won a medal in all four Games this event has been held, though unlike in 2010, 2014 and 2018, they were unable to stand top of the podium.

Stats Perform picks out some other standout numbers from Thursday's action in Beijing.


7 - Japan's Miho Takagi won her seventh Olympic medal with victory in the women's speed skating 1000m, surpassing China's Wang Meng (six) for the most medals won by an Olympian representing an Asian nation in the Winter Games.

12 - Brittany Bowe claimed bronze in the same event to make it 12 medals for the United States in the women's 1000m, followed by 10 for the Netherlands, who won silver thanks to Jutta Leerdam.

3 - Switzerland's Michelle Gisin became the third athlete to defend her Olympic title in the women's alpine combined after Janica Kostelic in 2002 and 2006 and Maria Hofl-Riesch in 2010 and 2014.

5 - Gisin's team-mate Wendy Holdener won silver for her fifth Olympic medal as Switzerland achieved a gold-silver finish in a women's alpine skiing event at the Winter Games for a third time, previously doing so in the 1956 downhill and 1984 downhill.

7 - Canada prevailed 3-2 winners against the USA in the women's ice hockey final to win their fifth gold medal since its introduction to the Games in 1998. This was the seventh medal in event for both nations, having each made the podium every year the event has been contested.

4 - With two goals on Thursday, Canada's Marie-Phillip Poulin is the only ice hockey player – male or female – to score in four Olympic Games finals, scoring seven times in total across those games.

17 - Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, both 17 years old, won gold and silver respectively in the women's single figure skating, marking the first time that multiple figure skaters under the age of 18 finished on the podium of the event since 1998 when American duo Tara Lipinski (15) and Michelle Kwan (17) won gold and silver respectively.

Canada men's ice hockey head coach Claude Julien will miss the Winter Olympics after falling on the ice in a team-building session and suffering broken ribs.

Former New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens coach Julien sustained the injury blow while with the team in Switzerland, where Canada are completing their preparation for the Games in Beijing.

Julien, 61, had been preparing to lead a team who will hope to compete for Olympic gold, an honour Canada have achieved nine times in their history, most recently at the 2014 Games in Sochi. They are hampered this time by players from the NHL sitting out the Olympics, a decision that was announced in December.

Hockey Canada confirmed Julien's injury in a statement that said: "During a team-building activity at training camp in Switzerland, Julien slipped on ice and sustained fractured ribs. As per the advice of the team's medical staff and other medical experts, it was determined that he will be unable to fly to Beijing to participate in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games due to the injury."

Details of what the team-building activity involved have not been revealed.

Team general manager Shane Doan said: "Claude was beyond excited and honoured to be a member of Team Canada at the Olympics, and we are all disappointed that he will no longer be able to lead our team in Beijing.

"Claude is in great spirits and we will continue to do everything we can to support him. We ask that Claude's privacy please be respected at this time."

According to the Toronto Sun newspaper, Doan said Julien was "devastated" when told his injuries meant he could not join the team on their mission to China.

Former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton takes over from Julien, with Doan saying: "We know he will do an exceptional job leading our team behind the bench in Beijing."

Colliton said: "While it is difficult to fill in for a coach that has a pedigree like Claude Julien, I am honoured to be considered as the person to lead Canada's men's Olympic team as head coach.

"We have a very close-knit, experienced coaching staff that has gained a lot of knowledge from Claude in our short time together, and I know our staff will continue to support each other as we look to achieve our goal of winning an Olympic gold medal."

Canada begin their Olympic campaign against Germany on February 10, before playing further preliminary group games against the United States on February 12 and China a day later.

Canada are on the brink of qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986 after an impressive 2-0 win over rivals the United States extended their lead atop the CONCACAF group.

John Herdman's side have been the big surprise in the CONCACAF qualifying section and look destined to reach only their second men's World Cup ever.

While Sunday's match was never going to be truly decisive, it provided Canada with another opportunity to show their position at the top of the standings is no mere fluke.

Having been deemed by many as the most exciting CONCACAF side in qualifying, Canada lived up to their billing as they opened the scoring, a sharp and incisive move ending with Cyle Larin playing a one-two with Jonathan David and firing home.

A Weston McKennie header just before the break almost restored parity, but Milan Borjan acrobatically pushed it on to the crossbar.

United States desperately poured men forward towards the end and were caught on the break in stoppage time, Samuel Adekugbe latching on to a hopeful hoof before dispatching a wonderfully composed finish from outside the box to spark jubilant scenes in Hamilton.

Victory means Canada could potentially secure their spot at the finals in Qatar when they go to El Salvador on Wednesday.

Two Plate competition matches at the ICC Under 19 Men’s Cricket World Cup have been cancelled after nine Canada players tested positive for COVID-19, organizers revealed today. The players will now undertake a period of isolation where their welfare will be monitored by the event medical team.

As a consequence, the Canadian team has insufficient available players to be able to take any further part in the event. Canada’s plate play-off semi-final with Scotland on 29 January is cancelled and in accordance with the playing conditions, Scotland will progress to the 13th/14th play-off as a result of having a better net run rate than Canada from all matches played in the event.

The 15th/16th play-off that would have featured Canada against either Uganda or PNG will also not take place.

“We are incredibly disappointed to have to cancel two ICC U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup games due to COVID-19 at this stage of the event,” said ICC Head of Events, Chris Tetley.

“We were expecting to see some positive cases throughout the event and to date, these have been managed in accordance with our bio-safety plan without impacting on fixtures. However, with so many players from the Canadian team testing positive it will not be possible to stage these games.

“The players are now self-isolating and will receive full support from the event medical team under the guidance of the Bio-Safety Advisory Group.”

The cancelled matches are as follows:

29 January - Canada v Scotland, Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Trinidad and Tobago

30 January - 15th/16 Play-Off, Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Trinidad and Tobago

Team Canada have announced their men's ice hockey roster as they aim to secure a 10th gold medal at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

NHL players will not be competing in Beijing and so Canada's roster of 25 includes nine players from Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, with the rest made up of those playing in Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and other leagues in the United States.

One of the more notable names is former Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild player Eric Staal, who won gold at Vancouver 2010.

The 37-year-old revealed his delight at having been selected in a press release following the announcement.

"I have so many fond memories of competing at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and winning a gold medal on home ice,'' Staal said. "The Olympics are the pinnacle of sport, and I know our entire team is grateful for the opportunity.''

The squad also contains three bronze medallists from PyeongChang 2018 in Maxim Noreau, Eric O'Dell, and Mat Robinson, as well as young players such as Mason McTavish and Owen Power, who was the first pick of the 2021 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

The ice hockey competition in Beijing is due to run from February 9-20.

The NHL confirmed last month that it would not be releasing players for the Games due to potential disruption to its schedule.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement: "The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL players to represent their countries and participate in a 'best on best' tournament.

"Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

"Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL's regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events - 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 - Olympic participation is no longer feasible.

"We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL players, but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone's best efforts.

"We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026."

Team Canada men's ice hockey roster for Beijing 2022

Goaltenders: Devon Levi, Edward Pasquale, Matt Tomkins

Defence: Mark Barberio, Jason Demers, Brandon Gormley, Alex Grant, Maxim Noreau, Owen Power, Mat Robinson, Tyler Wotherspoon

Forwards: Daniel Carr, Adam Cracknell, David Desharnais, Landon Ferraro, Josh Ho-Sang, Corban Knight, Jack McBain, Mason McTavish, Eric O'Dell, Eric Staal, Ben Street, Adam Tambellini, Jordan Weal, Daniel Winnik

Preparations are advancing for the Video Assistant Replay (VAR) replay system to be installed at Jamaica’s National Stadium, with a site visit expected to take place early next week.

Production and audiovisual company MediaPro, which is already in charge of broadcasting all Concacaf events, will be responsible for implementing the technology in Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama.  The other four venues, which do not have the technology installed.

The move follows up on the decision by CONCACAF to implement VAR for the region in September, but the move was held up not only by logistical considerations but also by adequately certified officials.

In recent weeks, however, football’s world governing body FIFA has accredited referees, as well as VAR assistants and managers.  Prior to that, only the United States, Mexico, and Canada had VAR officials as they were the only ones to make use of the technology in their various leagues.

Implementing the technology in Jamaica will incur an added expense as the equipment will have to be flown to the island before being installed at the country’s national stadium.  The other CONCACAF venues taking part in the Octagonal round, which do not have yet the technology, can be accessed via roadways.  The majority of the bill will be picked up by Concacaf.  Jamaica will resume World Cup qualification action against Mexico, at the National Stadium, on January 27th.

Belgium will sit at the top of FIFA's world rankings for a fourth successive year at the end of a record-breaking 12 months for international football.

Having seen just 352 full internationals take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fewest since 1987 (323), things were cranked up several notches this year as World Cup qualification attracted focus.

A total of 1,116 FIFA internationals were played across 2021, a new record, with teams making up for the loss of action a year earlier.

While the frequency of games changed significantly, one constant remains: Belgium lead the way once again, edging out Brazil by 2.1 points, while UEFA Nations League winners France finish the year third.

 

European champions Italy go into 2022 in sixth having claimed 115.77 points more than in 2020, while Copa America winners Argentina are one place better off, improving on their 2020 points total by 108.51 points.

But the biggest improvement of the year has been recorded by Canada, whose ranking of 40th is the joint-highest they have ever been.

The Canucks reached the semi-finals of the Gold Cup and are well on course to reach only their second World Cup finals – and a first since Mexico 1986 – as they sit top of the CONCACAF qualifying group with six games to go.

Their 1,462.32 points is 132.32 more than last year, the biggest 12-month improvement of all FIFA nations.

Meanwhile, World Cup hosts Qatar head into their big year just inside the top 50 at 48.

Jamaica's 2020 Olympic heavyweight boxer Ricardo 'Big 12' Brown has turned professional after recently finalizing a contract with United Boxing Promotions in Canada where he now resides.

Tyler Buxton of United Boxing Promotions, in announcing the signing, believes Brown possesses significant potential.

“Everyone loves heavyweights and at 6’7”, Ricardo is a massive heavyweight,” he said. “They call him ‘Big 12’ for a reason. He has knockout power in both hands. I’m excited to launch Ricardo’s professional career and build a platform for professional boxing in Jamaica with Big12 leading the way.”

When Brown qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics he became the first Jamaican to do so since 1996. The Pan Am Games bronze medalist said he is keen to begin his professional career.

“I’m very happy to be a part of the United Boxing Promotions. I’m humbled and I am looking forward to seeing what United Boxing Promotions have to offer me as I start my boxing career,” he said.

Brown said he hopes to inspire youngsters in both Jamaica and Canada, encouraging them, “Stay determined, disciplined, honest, and focused. You too can be in the Olympic ring one day or even have a professional boxing career.”

Born and raised in Spanish Town, St Catherine, Brown was introduced to boxing at an early age but now trains in Canada with Dewith Frazer.

Meanwhile, President of the Jamaica Boxing Board Stephen Bomber Jones fully endorsed Brown’s transition to the professional ranks.

"Having witnessed first-hand the trajectory of 'Big12' Brown's career from a novice to elite national representative and medalist, I am more than excited about the possibilities this his professional future entails,” the boxing board president said.

“I am not only certain that it will be a bright one but I truly believe he has all that it takes to be a future world heavyweight champion and we look forward to him fighting as a pro here on home soil."

Canada took a giant stride towards qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986 after Cyle Larin's brace led them to a 2-1 win over rivals Mexico in frosty conditions in Edmonton on Tuesday.

Larin struck either side of half-time, the victory seeing Canada leapfrog the United States and Mexico into top spot in CONCACAF 2022 World Cup qualifying with 16 points from eight games.

The result condemned Mexico to back-to-back qualifying defeats, after Friday's 2-0 loss to USA, leaving El Tri third on 14 points.

USA are second on 15 points following their 1-1 draw in Jamaica earlier on Tuesday.

Canada went ahead on the stroke of half-time when Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa failed to hold Alistair Johnston's long-range effort, with Besiktas forward Larin swooping on the rebound.

Larin doubled Canada's lead in the 52nd minute, cushioning a right-foot volley from Stephen Eustaquio's free-kick.

Mexico pulled a goal back in the 90th minute via Hector Herrera's header, ensuring a frantic finish before Jorge Sanchez squandered a golden opportunity from point-blank range as Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan saved his chested effort.

A scoreless draw between Jamaica and Canada on Sunday at Independence Park in Kingston took Jamaica to a pair of points thus far in the final round of World Cup qualification, while Canada earned its second consecutive away draw and now sits on seven points.

After an even first half, things heated up in the second 45 minutes. Canada had a chance just after the ball started rolling again before a Jamaica free kick in the 50th minute taken by Kemar Lawrence was met by Junior Flemmings, who hit the post with a header.

In the 80th minute, Jamaica’s Kemar Roofe led a counter-attack and tried his luck from outside the box with a strong right-footed effort, but narrowly missed the upper 90 of Canada GK Maxime Crepeau’s net.

 Canada kept pushing for the breakthrough goal as well, with chances in the 84th minute when Alistar Johnson was unable to get his effort on target after a nice build-up, followed by an opportunity in the 86th minute when Alphonso Davies pulled a few tricks out of his bag, but ultimately ran into the Jamaican defence in the area.

Lawrence once again drew Crepeau into action as the match ticked into the final minute of stoppage time, but the Canadian shot-stopper made the save to preserve the point.

Jamaica now hits the road again, travelling to face Honduras. Canada will play its first home match of the October FIFA window on Wednesday, welcoming Panama to BMO Field in Toronto.

 

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