After the wildest World Cup ever, Canada turns to the next ones
What's next for the men's and women's national teams
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Arguably the most exciting (and inarguably the most controversial) World Cup in history came to a thrilling conclusion yesterday with Argentina's wild penalty-shootout win over France in Qatar. Lionel Messi scored twice and then nailed his shootout attempt to finally get his hands on the sport's most coveted trophy and confirm that he is the greatest player of his generation (maybe of all time). But not before Argentina blew a late 2-0 lead, pulled back ahead on Messi's goal in extra time, then saw young French superstar Kylian Mbappé (who might take over the GOAT title someday) force penalty kicks by completing the first hat trick in a World Cup final since 1966.
The hype for this match was massive, but the two biggest stars in the tournament met the moment and put on a show for the ages. Read more about Messi's crowning victory in this piece by CBC Sports soccer correspondent Chris Jones.
From both a narrative and a pure excitement standpoint, there's probably never been a more satisfying World Cup final. You might say the same about the tournament as a whole, which featured a lot of big upsets, several heart-stopping comebacks, incredible performances by some of the planet's biggest stars and, oh yeah, Canada's first appearance in the men's World Cup in 36 years.
As the countdown begins toward 2026, when Canada will return as a co-host with the United States and Mexico, here's a look at some of the major events coming up for the Canadian men's and women's national teams:
If there's a downside to Canada's automatic berth as a co-host of the next World Cup, it's that we'll miss out on the drama of another qualifying campaign. Host teams typically do not participate in their regional qualifying tournaments. That puts more pressure on Canada Soccer to arrange matches against quality opponents to ensure the team stays sharp for 2026.
As for the next World Cup, it's still unclear what the format will be as the tournament expands from 32 teams to 48. FIFA was leaning toward shifting to 16 groups of three, with the top two in each group advancing to a 32-team knockout stage. But, after a thrilling conclusion to the group stage in Qatar, it now seems more likely that FIFA will stick with groups of four. This could mean that, along with the top two finishers in each of the 12 groups, the best eight third-place finishers would advance too.
What we do know is that the World Cup will return to its traditional June/July window in 2026. Toronto and Vancouver are the two Canadian cities that will host matches — a total of 10 between them. All matches from the quarterfinals on will be held in the United States.
The 2023 Women's World Cup kicks off exactly seven months from tomorrow in Australia and New Zealand. The draw was held in October, and Canada (now ranked sixth in the world) landed in a group with Australia (12th), Ireland (23rd) and Nigeria (45th).
That's a favourable set of opponents for Canada, which avoided all of the really good teams in Pot 1 and got co-host Australia instead. The Canadians should advance, but they'll probably have to beat one of the top dogs if they're to improve on their disappointing past in the World Cup knockout rounds. Canada got bounced in the round of 16 in 2019 and hasn't made it past the quarterfinals since 2003, when it reached the final four for the first and still only time.
There's another big date on the calendar for the Canadian women's team in 2023. Despite being the reigning Olympic champions, Canada must still qualify for the 2024 tournament in Paris. A spot was up for grabs last summer at the CONCACAF W Championship, but Canada fell short by losing to the U.S. in the final. In order to get to Paris, Canada must defeat Jamaica (the third-place finisher in the CONCACAF event) in a two-leg playoff to be held in September. For more on the Canadian women's team's goals for 2023, watch this interview with coach Bev Priestman on Soccer North:
WATCH | Canada WNT coach Priestman discsusses prep for key 2023 campaign: