"We want to start winning trophies": After taste of World Cup, Stephen Eustáquio and CanMNT have big goals for 2026 cycle
Catch the full Stephen Eustáquio interview with the 90th Minute's Caroline Szwed on YouTube.
It was a moment that was replayed around Canada.
Trailing 1-0 against Belgium in their 2022 World Cup opener, the Canadian Men’s National Team was looking for a spark, a moment of magic, any sort of inspiration, really. Having dominated most of the match, they were unable to turn that into any goals, and then got burned in their box right before half time, leaving them to chase the game in the second half.
But then, as they chased that goal, Stephen Eustáquio decided to take matters into his own hands (feet?). Taking a pass from Alistair Johnston, he quickly turned and slipped the ball right through the legs of Kevin De Bruyne (yes, that De Bruyne who finished third in Ballon D’Or voting in 2022), before then playing a dime of a cross to Jonathan David, who just nodded wide from in-close.
From there, Canada would end up losing the game, unfortunately, but that was a moment among many that showed that they belonged out on that sort of stage, with the cheek and confidence of Eustáquio on that play representing that. In a moment where Canadians would’ve expected to be just happy to be there, Eustáquio and his teammates were eager to show that they deserved to be out on that pitch, and although they didn’t get the win, moments like that showed that they certainly belonged.
And, selfishly for Eustáquio, it was also a moment that he’ll be able to one day tell the grandkids, as he now has a proud memento of it on his phone.
“I got lucky, I guess,” he joked to the 90th Minute’s Caroline Szwed this week. “It was a special moment, though, because everyone saw it, my friends all texted me about it, but those are the sort of things that can just happen naturally throughout the game.”
“I barely nutmeg players, it’s not something I do, but when I received that pass from Alistair Johnston, (De Bruyne) was right on top of me, so that was something I had to do invent some space, and his left leg just opened up and was the only way to get out of that. Then, the ball was just natural, as everything was perfectly positioned on my right foot. I saw Jonathan David making a back post run, and we trained that type of ball at Porto, to chip it in the box, so everything was natural there.”
“I still have the moment on my phone, and I’ll be keeping it, but yeah, it was a nice moment. If I had an assist on that play, it would’ve been amazing, but we’ll keep trying.”
The things you see on an average Wednesday, such as Stephen Eustáquio nutmegging one the best midfielders in the world in Kevin De Bruyne— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 23, 2022
Completely normal day, yes#CanMNTpic.twitter.com/m5CGH8Kr2R
Yet, while Eustáquio might say that he didn’t really expect to be making that sort of play in that game, for those who have followed him this season for Porto, they wouldn’t have been all that surprised to see him pull something like that off.
Always known as a defensive midfielder for most of his professional career, as well as with Canada, the 26-year-old has completely changed his game this year for Porto. In his first full season with the club, he has converted from a deep-lying #6 to a box-to-box midfielder, one that is heavily involved on both sides of the ball.
In particular, his attacking game has skyrocketed, as he’s scored seven goals and added six assists in 33 games across all competitions, after having just five goals and five assists in nearly 150 prior games.
Because of that, plays like the one he had on De Bruyne are becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, and he can now say he’s scored against teams like Club Brugge, Atlético Madrid and Sporting CP, all stemming from one key conversation that he had with Porto head coach Sérgio Conceição at the beginning of this season.
“When I arrived at Porto, I was running 11-12 kilometres per game, but it was always defensive, in my own midfield,” Eustáquio explained. “I was running so much, but I was never scoring goals, or nabbing assists, so I was always this kid that had a good quality of passing, but I was running way more than I should. So my coach at Porto said I was running a lot, you have a good capacity to run all of the kilometres in the game, so don’t just use that in midfield, but take advantage of it in the attack, so that’s why I started going forward more.”
“I feel that I’m a better player (because of it), when a midfielder scores goals and gets assists, as I have 7 goals and 6 assists right now, and to have those numbers, you have more value (to the team). Rather than just being a #6 with good passing quality, I’m a better box-to-box midfielder, but I can still be a playmaker, too.”
Along with that experience that he’s had playing at the top level, that is exciting for Canada, who are going to get a completely different version of Eustáquio than the one who burst onto the scene at the beginning of 2021, playing a huge role in their qualification to the World Cup.
Now, he’s still that same player who will control the midfield defensively, but can now expect to chip in the attack, and just overall bring the leadership and experience of playing at the top level.
That’s key, because as he notes, there’s just something about playing in a Champions League or World Cup game versus your typical league outing, say, and having that experience makes a big difference.
For Canada, that’s important, as more and more of their players are getting the chance to play in those sorts of environments, and they all got a taste together of what that looks like internationally at the World Cup, which are experiences that Eustáquio feels will only pay off down the road.
“I think the experience of that top level is key,” he noted. “That’s something I learned at the Champions League level, no matter how well you play, if you make a mistake, they’re probably going to score. So you can be there like we were against Belgium, just trying to break their formation, hold more possession, having more shots, more corners, more everything, and then we made just one mistake, and then they scored, as that was the quality that they have.”
“I think it shows that we need to defend our box better, and be better in their box, and if we get those situations fixed, that’s key.”
Because of that, expect a hungry Canadian side as they now shift their attention toward the next World Cup cycle.
Stephen Eustáquio comes up clutch 🥶— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) January 28, 2023
The 🇨🇦 can’t stop scoring, and today, he’s bagged in the Taça Da Liga final to give Porto a 1-0 lead vs Sporting
Great confidence to line this one up, lifting him to 7G/5A in 22/23
Red-hot. Eyes are on him👀#CanMNTpic.twitter.com/BaxqPT8iem
Given the chance to co-host the 2026 World Cup, they want to do everything that it takes to make the most of that opportunity, using lessons such as the 2022 World Cup, those experiences in Europe and more to help fuel that.
Therefore, look for Canada to come out firing, starting this weekend, when they take on Curaçao in a crucial match, one that represents the beginning of a long journey toward 2026 for them.
With goals of becoming a title-winning powerhouse in CONCACAF, one that can catch teams by surprise globally, they know that the work for that starts now, with bigger games still to come in the near future.
“We can’t sleep, it’s a different cycle, we passed the World Cup, and (typically), there’s this tendency of players relaxing, but that can’t be the case for us,” Eustáquio finished. “And it depends on us, the players, the staff, to bring that energy to the camp, for the experienced players to say let’s keep going, we still have things to win.”
“We proved in qualifying that we’re the best CONCACAF team, but (to further prove that), we need to really start winning trophies, and because of that we want to win the Nations League and the Gold Cup.”