Canada is out of contention at the World Cup — but what a ride

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks on the bright side of Canada's return to the men's World Cup, which resulted in a quick elimination but delivered much excitement for the future.

Alphonso Davies' historic goal was a window to an exciting future

Alphonso Davies authored a landmark Canadian sports moment with his historic goal vs. Croatia. (Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

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When Alphonso Davies headed in Tajon Buchanan's pinpoint cross just 68 seconds into yesterday's match vs. Croatia, he gave Canada more than just its first-ever men's World Cup goal — he opened up the country's imagination. Four days earlier, Canadians had watched their upstart squad outplay second-ranked Belgium in an unjust 1-0 loss. And now it had taken barely a minute to grab the lead on the 2018 World Cup runner-up. What else was this Canadian team capable of? Could it upset No. 12 Croatia for its first-ever World Cup win? Advance out of its group? Win a match in the knockout round? For a moment, almost anything seemed possible.

It didn't last, of course. Over the next half hour, it became painfully obvious that the Croatians were operating on a higher plane. Powered by a dominant midfield, they began picking Canada apart until the inevitable-seeming equalizer found the net in the 36th minute. By halftime it was 2-1, and the contest pretty much ended when forward Andrej Kramaric scored his second goal of the match in the 70th minute. The 4-1 final score looked bad. But it felt like it could have been even worse. Canada got schooled. And got the boot. With their second loss in two matches, the Canadians became the second team in the tournament (after interloping host Qatar) to be mathematically eliminated from contention for the knockout stage.

That's a kick in the teeth, for sure. But there's a lot to be glad about. This is all gravy, remember? Back in June 2021, Canadian soccer fans were pretty fired up just to have beaten Haiti to advance to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the first time since 1998. The team looked promising, but no one at that time dreamed Canada's path would lead all the way to Qatar. A reasonable objective was to put up a good fight and lay the groundwork for 2026. By then, maybe the young core of Davies (still only 22 today) Jonathan David (also 22) and Stephen Eustaquio (25) would form the foundation of a viable World Cup team when Canada co-hosts with the United States and Mexico.

Instead, we witnessed a quantum leap as Canada surpassed those traditional regional powers to finish atop the CONCACAF qualifying table and earn its first World Cup berth in 36 years. Any fears that this rising but green squad would be embarrassed on sports' biggest stage disappeared last week when they pushed Belgium to the limit, proving to the world that Canada belongs here. Then, yesterday, we got to witness the country's first-ever men's World Cup goal. Sure, things fell apart from there, but not even the humbling blowout defeat to Croatia can take that moment away. It's part of Canadian sports history now. And a window to an exciting future.

Oh, and this team isn't quite done yet. Canada will play its final match of the Qatar World Cup on Thursday at 10 a.m. ET vs. Morocco. There's still something to play for: a win or draw would give Canada its first-ever point(s) in a men's World Cup. It'll be a tough job against a surprising Moroccan team that's tied for top spot in the group after earning a draw vs. Croatia and then defeating shaky Belgium 2-0 yesterday. Read more about the Canada-Morocco matchup here.

Today's World Cup results:

Title favourite Brazil became the second team to advance to the knockout stage (after defending champion France) by beating Switzerland 1-0 on a late goal by Casemiro. The five-time champs were without superstar forward Neymar and defender Danilo, both out with ankle injuries suffered in Brazil's opening 2-0 win over Serbia. It's still unclear when (or even if) Neymar will return in this tournament. Read CBC Sports soccer correspondent Chris Jones' story on the brilliant Brazilians here.

Portugal also booked a spot in the next round by beating Uruguay 2-0. Bruno Fernandes scored twice in the second half, including a late penalty kick that sealed the victory.

Elsewhere, Serbia and Cameroon played to a 3-3 draw while Ghana defeated South Korea 3-2. Read more about today's matches here.

Tomorrow's matches:

It's crunch time now as we move into the third and final group-stage match for each team. Tuesday's contests are Ecuador vs. Senegal (10 a.m. ET), the Netherlands vs. Qatar (10 a.m. ET), Iran vs. the United States (2 p.m. ET) and Wales vs. England (2 p.m. ET).

Iran vs. the U.S. is the one to watch for a variety of reasons. The Iranians sit second in Group B with three points — one ahead of the Americans, who need a win or they're out. A draw will probably get Iran through, barring a Wales upset of group leader England. The Iran-U.S. contest is also politically charged after the U.S. Soccer Federation displayed the Iranian flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic. The American team said it had no part in the move, which the USSF said was made to show "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights." Iran filed a complaint with FIFA while a state-aligned news agency called for the U.S. to be kicked out of the tournament. Read more about the controversy here.

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