Canada eliminated from World Cup after loss to Croatia

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RAYYAN, Qatar — Canada will exit the World Cup later this week without advancing to the knockout stage as a result of losing their first two matches against respectable opposition, including a 4-1 decision against the 2018 finalists, Croatia on Sunday. For this, there is a lot of frustration.

But the Canadians will take home a valuable prize (the first World Cup goal in the men’s program’s 98-year history) and the knowledge that they played ambitious soccer. Four days after scaring second-placed Belgium, they put Croatia ahead after just 67 seconds – the fastest goal of this tournament.

“We weren’t afraid of anybody,” defenseman Steven Vitoria said. “We kept pushing forward, trying to play that attacking style. We are proud of it. We will continue to work to close the gaps and test the best teams in the world. That’s where we want to take our country.”

On November 27 the World Cup continued with four matches in group E and F. Here are the results. (Video: The Washington Post)

At this World Cup, Canada earned style points, if not actual points, in their first appearance since their tournament debut in 1986. Defensively, however, they could not contain Croatia, who scored eight minutes before the break and added two second-half goals to move into a first-place tie with formidable Morocco.

Group F favorites Belgium sit on three points after losing 2-0 to the Moroccans earlier on Sunday. Group F will conclude on Thursday with Morocco facing Canada and Croatia taking on Belgium. Two will advance to the Round of 16.

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Regardless of how they fared in the final, the Canadians “left a positive image of what we want for the future,” Vitória said.

The future will undoubtedly continue to hold Alphonso Davies, a former West African refugee who has become a world star at Bayern Munich. The 22-year-old winger made history for Canada on Sunday with the first goal.

“Knowing that people from east to west were celebrating somewhere,” coach John Herdman said, “it was a great moment. We have to celebrate something we’ve been waiting for a long time.”

The good vibes didn’t last long. Andrej Kramaric scored the first of his two goals and Marko Livaja broke the deadlock.

The Croatians said they were motivated by Herdmann, who used the verbiage during a television interview after the 1-0 defeat by Belgium to describe what his team would do in Croatia. Croatian media noted this in the build-up to this match.

“I want to thank the Canadian coach for the motivation,” Kramaric said through an interpreter. “He could have chosen different words. He could have phrased it differently. In the end, Croatia showed who implemented who.”

Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic, architect of Russia 2018’s improbable run, exchanged greetings with Herdman before the match. Then, however, they did not cross paths.

“That’s his way of doing things,” Dalic said. “He was obviously crazy. He is a high-quality professional, but it will take time for him to learn some things.”

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Canada was speaking at the beginning. The run of goals started with a long clearance from goalkeeper Milan Borgian and within seconds the ball was in the net.

Cyle Larin connected with Tajon Buchanan on the right side. Drifting into the box, Jonathan David pulled centre-back Dejan Lovren with him, which created an inviting channel. Davis accepted the invitation.

After starting his run from deep, he made his decisive move. Josip Juranovic didn’t see Davies coming and had no chance of winning Buchanan’s cross. Davies soared for a running 10-yard header.

The Khilafa International Stadium was transformed into a festival of red-clad Canadian revelers.

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In their 1986 tournament debut, Canada lost all three matches by a combined 5–0. In the following decades, it stumbled again and again in the Concacaf qualifying phase. Earlier this year, the drought ended after finishing first, ahead of regional powers Mexico and the United States.

On Sunday, Canada kept up the pressure, teasing supporters with quick raids and impressing neutral fans with a forward-thinking style. Before long, though, Croatia figured out how to contain Davies.

The pace became too fast and the game too open for it to remain a 1-0 game.

In the 36th minute, Ivan Perisic slid the ball past a diabetic Kramaric in the corner of the six-yard box for a low one-way drive into the far corner.

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Croatia continued to take advantage of Canada’s open space and lukewarm defense. In the 44th minute, Juranovic flew in from midfield, beating the elegant Davies and turning centrally. The Canadians closed, but after losing control, Juranovic touched the ball between Vitoria’s legs to Livaja, who fired in a low shot from the top of the penalty area.

Canada’s hopes were dashed in the 70th minute when Kramaric set himself up for a left-footer from 14 yards. Lovro Majer added a goal in stoppage time.

“Every single one of the players that was on the field, from the first game to this game, played with the right mindset and played fearless, played brave,” Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson said. “But of course, we were playing on a world stage with a lot of quality [on the other teams]. There are things we should learn. We didn’t get the result we wanted. But we will learn from it. And we’re going to get better at it.”

World Cup in Qatar

USMNT: The United States faced England in their second World Cup game on Friday. The match ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving the United States feeling good about their performance, but also leaving Group B wildly unsettled heading into Tuesday’s finals.

Political protest: The looming backdrop of Iran’s World Cup campaign is a national protest movement at home targeting its clerical leadership, and tensions, inevitable and persistent, spill over onto the pitch.

Perspective: The beautiful game is fine. Suitcases full of cash are better. Read Sally Jenkins on the human rights controversy in Qatar.

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