3 things we learned about the CanMNT's World Cup finale vs Morocco
It finished much the way it began for the Canadian men's national team.
Frustrated by the sting of defeat, left to bemoan costly defensive errors and a lack of finishing, it wasn’t a pretty end to the World Cup for Canada, who fell 2-1 to Morocco in their last group stage match on Friday.
Because of that, they now head home from the World Cup without a victory, having scored just two goals and conceded seven across three group-stage games. Having arrived in Qatar eager to rewrite history after not qualifying for this tournament in 36 years, instead, they left much like the 1986 Canadian team they were hoping to surpass - with no points and a -5 goal difference.
At the same time, it’d be unfair to say that Canada didn’t build on that 1986 tournament. Despite what the results might suggest, they had some flashes of brilliance at this tournament, but unfortunately, they were often offset by moments of frustration.
Yet, those are the sorts of moments that can be crucial for Canada in the long run. Having arrived at this tournament set to play these games on their terms, they certainly can’t be faulted for not straying from that ideal, even if it meant going out on their sword in the end.
Now, they know what it’ll take to compete at this level, they’ll have to look to these lessons, of which there is no shortage of, with this Morocco game being the latest of their crucial learning sessions.
Speaking of, here’s a look at what Canada learned from this Morocco match, one that will certainly sting for the next while.
Slow starts continue to haunt Canada
It was the worst possible start for Canada.
Having spent much of the pre-match build-up stating that they were going to come out bursting with fire, eager to chase their first-ever World Cup result, Canada was instead left to pick the ball out of their net just four minutes into the match.
Not only that, but they had to do so while suffering the humiliation of knowing that they’d just given up a goal that will be circulated on the highlight reels for the next while, and not for a good reason.
After a mix-up that both Milan Borjan and Steven Vitória will want to forget, one that saw Borjan feeding the always-dangerous Hakim Ziyech for a wide-open 30-yard goal, it instead left Canada to chase the game, a task filled with peril considering that they’d set up their lineup to jam things up and counter.
Because of that, a second goal soon followed from Morocco in the 23rd minute, as Canada finished the half looking like a team that was out of answers, just desperately trying to not let the game get away from them.
To give them credit, they then did get some fight back in their legs before the break, as they somehow got on the board via a well-worked own goal initiated by Sam Adekugbe, one that was well against the run of play, before emerging from the half time break with an excellent second half, but by then, the early damage proved to be fatal as Canada’s late push yielded nothing.
Yet, this isn’t the first time that Canada has done this to itself. In fact, they’ve made it a bit of a habit recently.
To get an idea of how much so, consider this - by conceding this early goal, that was the 14th time in Canada’s last 28 games that they’ve given up the first goal. Not only that, but of those 14 games, they gave up the first goal in the first half 13 of those times, meaning that they’ve been left to chase a game early on in nearly half of the games they’ve played since the start of July 2021.
Therefore, it’s not that surprising to note that Canada has a record of 3W-3D-8L in those 14 games, as it’s always going to be tough to win when you’re playing from behind, especially when you’re playing top-calibre teams, as Canada has mostly done over that stretch.
Especially for a Canadian team that is at its best when it can stretch the legs of its opponents, conceding an early goal can be fatal, as it allows teams to sit in a defensive shell and counter Canada, a strategy that Canada hasn’t proven the most adept at dealing with.
As a result, cleaning up that side of their game has to be a priority in 2023. Canada’s defence remains rather solid on the whole, as they’ve conceded just 26 goals across those 28 games, giving up more than one goal just six times and more than two goals just once across that span, but the timing of those goals that they’ve conceded is killing them. In fact, consider this - of those 26 goals, 17 of them have been in the first half, just showing how much Canada has had trouble keeping things tidy at the beginning of matches.
And this game was a prime example of that. In the end, despite their early struggles, Canada was still a crossbar away from leaving with a result against a very good Moroccan team, one that ended up winning the group in the end, yet another example of Canada being able to hang at this level.
But as they also showed against Belgium and Croatia, it doesn’t matter how well you play if you give up goals at bad times, and this game was just another example of that, something that will certainly frustrate Canada’s staff when they look back on this one.
Moroccan team punishes Canada, but offers glimpse of 2026
Speaking of Morocco, however, it’s worth noting that by playing them, Canada got a good look at what this tournament can do for them in the long run, as long as they take what they learned here and apply it over the next couple of years.
Having topped the group with an impressive seven points out of nine, doing so while arguably looking like the best team in a group that included the 2018 World Cup runner-ups, Croatia, and the #2-ranked team in the world, Belgium, Morocco have undoubtedly been one of the best stories of this World Cup.
Yet, despite looking like a seasoned, well-oiled machine this tournament, it’s worth noting that just four years ago, Morocco was in Canada’s position at the 2018 World Cup.
Their first World Cup since 1998, Morocco was drawn into a tough group with Spain, Portugal and Iran, leaving them in tough to try and progress. Then, in their first game, despite a strong performance against Iran, they were left reeling after a heartbreaking 1-0 loss, one that saw them concede a last-minute own goal.
From there, they ended up losing 1-0 at the hands of Portugal despite another bright performance, before clawing back their respect with a 2-2 draw against Spain, but despite all of the positivity surrounding their three performances, they were left to head home with just one point out of nine.
But two things were key about what Morocco showed during that World Cup.
First, they went in there with a steely resolution to play their way. A very technically sound team, they tried to play attractive soccer even when up against Portugal and Spain, a bold ask given the calibre of those teams. Unlike their group mates, Iran, who were content sitting behind the ball and absorbing pressure, Morocco stuck to what they were good at, and even if they weren’t rewarded for that with many points, they at least left knowing that they can compete with some strong teams.
Secondly, they got the chance to give out experience to a few key players. For example, while they weren’t able to make the biggest impact, it’s important to note that 19-year-old Achraf Hakimi managed to play 270 minutes, 25-year-old Hakim Ziyech managed to log 264, while a pair of 21-year-olds in Youssef En-Nesyri and Sofyan Amrabat added a handful of minutes each.
Now, in this tournament, those four have been crucial for Morocco. Amrabat has arguably been their most important player, dominating all three games in midfield, while Ziyech has been a creative force in all three games, scoring a goal and adding an assist, with En-Neysri rounding things off with a goal, and Hakimi chipping in with an assist.
You add in the strong play in the net of Yassine Bounou, who after being a back-up in 2018, has turned into a crucial piece in goal for Morocco, and it’s clear to see that Morocco’s 2022 has been led by those who got that embedding process in 2018. No longer a shy team, you can tell that they were a team that belongs at this level, and their comfortable performance against Canada proved that.
Alright, last #CanMNT tweet for now - Morocco & Australia both finished with 1 point at the 2018 #FIFAWorldCup. They both made the KOs in 2022— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) December 1, 2022
Speaking to that point of progress, it's cliche, but true - sometimes making mistakes at this level pushes you to learn and grow from it
Therefore, for Canada, there’s a lot to like with the lessons that Morocco learned from 2018. Given that Canada was a team that also broke a lengthy drought to get here, they never strayed from their bravado and game plan despite being drawn in what was arguably one of the tournament’s hardest groups, and as a result, had some pretty memorable performances over the course of this 2022 World Cup, there are a lot of parallels there.
Doing so while also getting the chance to let some key young players get a taste of this level, such as 22-year-old Alphonso Davies, 22-year-old Jonathan David, 23-year-old Tajon Buchanan, 25-year-old Stephen Eustáquio, 20-year-old Ismaël Koné and a few others, that’s also key.
So while Canada still showed that they have a lot to learn, as Morocco showed four years ago, if you can take those lessons and apply them in the future, while continuing to grow as a team, you can improve leaps and bounds over that time, something that Canada will be eager to prove as the focus starts to shift to 2026.
Tajon Buchanan wraps up strong World Cup performance
Heading into this tournament, there was a lot of chatter of this being an opportunity for some of Canada’s players to really go out and make themselves known, taking advantage of the platform that this tournament has to offer.
Especially given that a lot of Canada’s squad could probably be playing at a higher level, something that teams are starting to realize with the increased numbers of Canadians moving to bigger and bigger European teams, it felt like this tournament could really open doors for some players.
Yet, despite that, some players weren’t able to seize that opportunity. Across these three games, some of Canada’s brightest performers in qualifying ended up looking like a shadow of themselves at the big dance, which considering the number of eyeballs on them, didn’t do themselves any favours.
One name who didn’t have that problem, however, was Tajon Buchanan, and he proved that across all three games, wrapping off the tournament with another performance to remember.
Despite continuing to be asked to play all over the pitch, slotting sometimes on the wing, at wing back and at full back, he remained relatively consistent no matter the assignment, doing well to be the two-way force that has made him such a fascinating player to follow at Club Brugge.
Always dangerous on the attack, eager to drive the ball up the field and make things happen, he did so while rarely skirting a defensive assignment, always making sure to track back and get into position, no matter what that might’ve been at the time.
This game was another example of that, as he finished by completing 19 out of 23 of his passes, generating one shot and a dribble while also racking up two interceptions and two recoveries, showing his ability to influence the game on both sides.
Yet, that’s what Buchanan has done at the club level, as he’s grown from a raw youngster to a polished player, one that can consistently provide value game over game for a team.
On top of that, he’s done so while never losing the aspect that made him such a hot commodity in 2021 when he was breaking out with the New England Revolution and the CanMNT, which is his ability to make things happen out of nothing, often in clutch moments.
Heck, he showed that this tournament, as it was he who generated Canada’s best chance in the opening game against Belgium, winning the early penalty that Alphonso Davies then missed, before setting up Canada’s first-ever men’s World Cup goal in the next game against Croatia, teeing up Davies with a perfect cross on that tally.
Because of that, there’s no doubt that Buchanan’s stock is flying upward right now. Already in the midst of a strong season with Brugge, Buchanan proved this World Cup that he can also shine on the biggest of stages, something that will only help scouts make the case why they should sign him.
And for Canada, that’s exciting. As he’s proven over the last year, when he’s on his game, he’s arguably one of this team’s five most important players, so if he can make the jump to an even better league, that’s a win for Canada, something that certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility after this tournament.