GANGUÉ-RUZIC: Copa América draw offers CanMNT a reminder of why qualification is so crucial ahead of 2026
After nearly an hour of spectacle, the 2024 Copa América draw quickly played out, revealing the groups for the 48th edition of South America’s marquee men’s international tournament.
Held next summer in the US, it promises to be a special edition of the competition, too, as six teams from Concacaf have been invited to help expand it from 10 to 16 for this tournament, as part of a strategic partnership between CONMEBOL and Concacaf.
Because of that, while the usual 10 CONMEBOL teams paid close attention as their teams were drawn into their respective groups, so did eight Concacaf teams, including four that are already qualified, as well as a further four that are hoping to take the last two spots available to them in March.
Unfortunately, however, the CanMNT counts itself among that latter group, as they get set to play Trinidad & Tobago in that one-game playoff in Frisco, Texas in March.
To be fair, that was always a possibility that some had braced for - Canada was up against a very good Jamaican side in their first opportunity to qualify for this tournament, which came in the 2023-2024 Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals.
Yet, instead of falling short across the entirety of the tie, which could’ve very well happened given Jamaica’s talent, Canada eventually succumbed to the Reggae Boyz 4-4 on aggregate (Jamaica advanced on away goals) despite leading 3-1 through 150 out of 180 minutes of this tie, as they instead missed out in heartbreaking fashion.
There's no other way to put it: absolute disaster from the #CanMNT— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 22, 2023
Shocking way to miss out on direct Copa América qualification, as they were up 3-1 but didn't adjust as 🇯🇲 woke up
Now, they're eliminated from Nations League, and need a one-off game to make it to Copa América
And that’s frustrating, as they had their qualification in their own hands, and threw it away, something that they’ll feel reminded by as they watched the four already-qualified teams out of Concacaf, the US, Mexico, Panama and Jamaica, get seeded into their respective groups in this draw.
At the same time, despite their lack of concrete presence in this draw, Canada still figured in, as their potential spot was drawn out.
There, they received a huge potential lifeline, one that could almost make their loss to Jamaica worth it, provided that they make the most of the opportunity that now awaits them.
Due to that Jamaica loss, their spot was in pot four (as playoff teams typically are in draws like this where not all of the participants are finalized), instead of pot three, as Canada would’ve been placed in due to their FIFA Ranking.
Of course, it’s worth noting that’s not *usually* a reward - just ask this Canadian team, who would’ve loved to have been in pot three instead of four for the draw ahead of the 2022 World Cup, for example.
In this case, however, luck smiled at them, as their potential spot was drawn in Group A with defending World Cup and Copa América champions, Argentina, as well as Peru and Chile.
And for Canada, that might be the perfect draw for them in a tournament like this.
Yes, playing Argentina is going to be extremely tough, given that they’ve lost just two games since the end of the 2019 Copa América, and have a deep roster headlined by one Lionel Messi, among many other talented stars, but that’s a huge test for Canada, who would get to measure themselves against what is quite *literally* the best team in the world right now.
Then, after that, they’d get two tough games against Peru and Chile, too, giving them two more solid tests against South American opposition, but given that Peru is currently in last place six games into Conmebol’s World Cup qualifying, and Chile is in eighth, they’re probably two of the teams that one would most likely want to play out of the continent right now.
That’s key, as while they’ll be two opponents of a calibre that Canada still needs to prove itself against, they can also realistically dream of getting past them and into a knockout game.
And for Canada, that’s key, as the things they would’ve wanted out of a draw like this are (1 a test against a top team like Argentina or Brazil, 2) as few Concacaf opponents as possible (that’s what Nations League is for), and 3), a group where they could potentially dream of playing a knockout Copa América game, which would be massive.
So that they were able to tick all three of those boxes? It’s a dream scenario, especially given that being in pot three could’ve actually made things harder for them to tick all of those boxes, something that Panama can attest to, for example, having been drawn into a tough group C with the US, Uruguay and Bolivia.
This #CopaAmérica draw is perfect for the #CanMNT, *if* they beat 🇹🇹— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) December 8, 2023
They get a needed but extremely tough test vs Argentina, who is in fantastic form, but have a chance vs Peru/Chile even though those will also be 2 tough games. Gives them a chance of KOs
Despite all of that, however, there’s one final issue that remains despite that perfect draw - Canada now needs to take care of business, and beat Trinidad & Tobago, earning them the right to qualify for their first Copa América, where they can walk into this group that awaits them.
To do that, it’ll take a clinical performance in a game where the margin for error is high, and the pressure will be through the roof. For a Canadian team whose confidence seems to be at an all-time low after that Jamaica collapse, it’s a huge ask, one that will take a lot of concentration from them.
At the same time, that’s why this Jamaica loss could prove to be key for them. Even if it denied them a chance of direct qualification, cost them a shot at a trophy in March, and filled their fall 2024 schedule with Concacaf matches instead of valuable friendlies, it provided them with a key wake-up call.
One that they sorely needed, after having previously ignored the warning signs months earlier, it could provide them with the jolt that they needed to turn things back around, as it reminded them of what they need to do to hit that next level as a team, instead of stagnating and risking falling behind.
Had they won against Jamaica, they might have continued to ignore those warnings, and heading into a tournament like the Copa América, that could’ve been dangerous to do, given the calibre of opposition that awaits.
Now, however, they learned another key lesson against Jamaica, one that may prove to be too big to ignore, especially when remembering that Canada went from being all but assured of qualifying, to now tackling this one-off game that awaits.
Of course, they must now take those lessons to heart, and ensure that they do what they need to do to take care of business, which includes potentially looking at a new coach, freshening their roster and figuring out their tactical identity, amongst others, but if they can do that, a golden opportunity awaits them.
If they can do all of that and then beat Trinidad & Tobago, it cannot be understated how valuable it would be to take on a team like Argentina in a tournament like this, one that means so much to them, and the same goes for Peru and Chile, too.
Especially if Canada can freshen up their team and start looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup, which they’re co-hosting, it could prove to be immensely valuable for players across their roster to experience matches like this, from those at the top like Alphonso Davies, Stephen Eustáquio and Jonathan David, to the younger players who haven’t quite made their mark yet like Luc De Fougerolles, Ali Ahmed and many more, and everyone else who could make up a potential squad.
So now, it’s crucial that Canada doesn’t let this chance go to waste. If they’re indeed able to do what they want to do at the 2026 World Cup, which is make history and finally win a game, make it to the knockouts and more, this Copa América could be an invaluable experience to help them get to where they need to be if they’re to accomplish those things.
The #CanMNT have to do everything in their power to get to the 2024 Copa América— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 29, 2022
A chance to play the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Chile and even US/Mexico would be key
Need as many competitive games vs tier one opponents as possible
Because of that, they must make the most of the second opportunity that was given to them post-Jamaica, and not let it go to waste.
Therefore, using the idea of Davies, David, Eustáquio and co. going up against Lionel Messi and the rest of his La Albiceleste teammates in the opening game of this Copa América in Atlanta, Canada has a lot of important work to do over the next four months, allowing them to get their journey towards their 2026 World Cup back on track, allowing them to get rid of the sour taste of 2023.
If not, this will forever stand out as a huge missed opportunity, one that could have huge consequences on the future of this team.