DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Canada coach John Herdman spoke of the excitement he felt when striker Alphonso Davies arrived in Doha this week — Canada’s first at the World Cup. In 36 years.
“He’s really excited,” said Herdman, whose Canada opens next week against Belgium. “Who wouldn’t be when you drive to your hotel and see your 80-foot poster.”
But some of the excitement has already worn off for Davis and Canada. The poster might even be false advertising if Davies can’t take the field.
Bayern Munich’s rising star and Canada’s standout player may not play against Belgium after a hamstring injury kept him out of recent World Cup warmups.
Herdman said Davies is “still building at a high pace. But he hasn’t reached that top speed yet.
“When you have hamstring injuries, there’s always a key moment,” Herdman added. “That’s when the hamstring is pushed and pushed to its limit.”
Herdmann didn’t say it outright, but hinted he was inclined to drop him against Belgium, before recovering for the Group F games against Morocco and Croatia.
The top two teams from each of the eight groups will advance to the knockout round of 16.
Herdman said Belgium is the best team Canada has faced since playing Brazil more than a decade ago.
“We’ve got to get it right because it could be a long tournament for Canada,” said Herdman, who believes Canada will stun and survive the group stage. “The last thing I want is for Alphonsa to lose it.”
Too bad Davis got hurt. But two other top Canadian players are also questionable with injuries: playmaking midfielder Stephan Eustaquio and No. 1 goalkeeper Milan Borgen.
Some would say they are the top three players in Canada.
Eustaquio suffered an unspecified injury in Canada’s 2-1 win over Japan in Dubai on Thursday, with Borgen complaining of abdominal pain. Borgen was out of practice on Saturday.
“That’s the life of a coach,” Herdman said. “I mean, it’s dark on the one hand, and it’s opportunity on the other.”
That’s nothing new for the Canadians, who topped qualifying from the CONCACAF region despite repeated injuries to top players. Despite this, Canada beat Mexico 2-1 on home soil and drew 1-1 at Mexico City’s treacherous Aztec Stadium.
Canada, which beat the United States 2-0 in qualifying, was held to a 1-1 draw in Nashville.
“We played multiple games without Alphonso Davies and we did well,” Canada midfielder Samuel Piette said. “We don’t want to miss them. We want these guys on the pitch. But at the same time, who is willing to answer the call.
Piette echoed what Herdman and other players alluded to — the little chip Canadian players have on their shoulder.
“We want to shock the world and show that Canada is a serious soccer country and a serious team,” Piatt said. “Hopefully we start on the right foot against Belgium.”
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