World Cup notebook: Davies seems OK, Hutchinson returns, off-field tensions rise

CBC Sports' daily newsletter gets you caught up on a flood of World Cup news, including the health status of Canada's Alphonso Davies and Atiba Hutchinson and rising tensions over Qatar's human-rights record.

Lots of news to catch up on 2 weeks from Canada's opener

Despite an injury scare over the weekend, it sounds like Alphonso Davies will be ready for Canada's World Cup opener on Nov. 23. (Don MacKinnon/AFP via Getty Images)

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Exactly two weeks from today, Canada will play its first men's World Cup match in 36 years when it takes on second-ranked Belgium in Qatar. As the anticipation for the world's most popular sporting event builds, there's been a bunch of World Cup-related news in recent days — some of it involving the Canadian team. Here's what you should know:

It sounds like Alphonso Davies should be OK for Canada's opener.

You could almost hear a collective gasp across the country Saturday when Canada's best player left a Bayern Munich match clutching his right hamstring. But the club said the next day that the injury, which it called a "strain," was not as bad as some feared and Davies' participation in the World Cup "is not at risk." Bayern also said Davies will sit out its two remaining matches before the World Cup. On Monday, Bayern's head coach added that he doesn't think Davies will be able to play in Canada's final full-squad friendly before the World Cup, on Nov. 17 vs. Japan, but "he could be fit for [Canada's] first World Cup game" six days later.

Canada lost two players to injury over the past week but is hoping to get two important guys back.

Last Wednesday, coach John Herdman announced that defender Scott Kennedy won't be able to play in Qatar due to a shoulder injury suffered while playing in Germany's second division. On Saturday, Canada lost backup goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to a gruesome broken leg in extra time of the MLS Cup final. Notwithstanding the emotional toll, these are not devastating losses for Canada. But they could put additional strain on a roster that was already at a depth disadvantage compared to many of the top World Cup teams.

On a brighter note, Jonathan Osorio appears ready to return to action after post-concussion syndrome limited the important midfielder to just one (brief) appearance for Toronto FC over the final two months of the MLS season. And more good news arrived today when 39-year-old Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson made his first appearance of the season for his club in Turkey. Hutchinson, who'd been sidelined with a bone bruise, started and played 70 minutes, which bodes well for his chances of playing in the World Cup. Canada's final 26-man roster for the World Cup will be announced Sunday

The Canadian team (sort of) is back in action this week.

Clubs aren't required to release anyone for World Cup duty until this coming Monday, so most of Canada's best players won't join the team until then. That includes the injured Davies, star Lille striker Jonathan David (third in French league scoring behind superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé), vital midfielder Stephen Eustáquio (FC Porto), starting goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) and forward Cyle Larin and winger Tajon Buchanan of Belgium's Club Brugge.

In the meantime, Canadians from out-of-season leagues (like MLS) are participating in a training camp in Bahrain, where they'll play a friendly against the host country on Friday at 10:30 a.m. ET (not Thursday as I mistakenly wrote in yesterday's newsletter). The full squad will play its final warmup match a week from tomorrow vs. Japan in Dubai before facing Belgium in its World Cup opener six days later. For more on Canada's players as they prepare for the World Cup, watch the latest "Keeping up with the Canadians" segment from CBC Sports' new Soccer North show hosted by Andi Petrillo. 

Things are heating up off the field too.

With kickoff in Qatar now just 11 days away, concerns over the culturally conservative, gas-rich host country's treatment of both LGBTQ people and the low-wage migrant workers who built a World Cup infrastructure basically from scratch have been reignited.

Last week, FIFA sent a letter to the 32 participating teams urging them to "let football take centre stage" and avoid having the sport "dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists." This came after eight European teams — including traditional powers England, Germany and France — said their captains would wear armbands featuring a rainbow heart design (in violation of FIFA rules) as part of an anti-discrimination campaign. Also, Australia's team released a video denouncing Qatar's human-rights record on same-sex relationships and migrant workers while Denmark introduced a black jersey as a sign of "mourning" for workers who died in Qatar. Canada Soccer released a statement saying that Qatar has made "strides" in "strengthening protections for workers" and that "a legacy of this tournament should be to inspire and encourage further improvements."

More fuel for the LGBTQ rights controversy came yesterday when a former Qatari national team player working as an ambassador for this World Cup described homosexuality as a "damage in the mind" and said that gay visitors "will have to accept our rules," which include a ban on homosexuality and public displays of affection. Also, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said awarding the World Cup to Qatar was "a bad choice."

Meanwhile, calls for Iran to be removed from the tournament are coming from both inside and outside that country. Some want Iran banned over its treatment of women, while Ukraine officials have asked FIFA to boot Iran for human rights violations and supplying weapons to the Russian military. Here in Canada, a new CBC News report shed more light on the flawed decision-making that led to Canada Soccer scheduling a friendly vs. Iran despite being concerned about the reaction from families of the Canadians killed when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a passenger plane in 2020. Read that story here.

Watch the new CBC Sports show Soccer North airing weekly on CBC Gem and CBC Sports' YouTube channel. Hosted by Andi Petrillo, Soccer North brings Canadians closer to the most interesting soccer headlines happening on and off the pitch.

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