UMM ŞALĀL ‘ALĪ, Qatar — While Canada may be diving into the deep end against No. 2 Belgium on Wednesday at the World Cup, the team belief appears strong on the eve of its plunge.
"We don't hope no more, we believe," veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio told reporters after training Sunday. 'And we're very confident in ourselves."
"We want to show that we are a football nation, that we can compete with the best in the world," he added. "We want to surprise people because I think people still see us as underdogs and things like this, and Canada and the World Cup, they should just be happy to be here. But that's not our mentality. We're here to compete — to compete at a high level.
"We believe within our group. With the quality that we have and our brotherhood we can go as far as we want to go."
Midfielder Samuel Piette says Canada is relishing the challenge that awaits
"I think in qualifying we played in a way where we were fearless and we want to do that on the biggest stage," said the CF Montreal stalwart. "We don't want to back down. We want to be on the front foot and go toe to toe with Belgium.
"We just don't want to sit back and enjoy the moment. and take one game at a time and say after 'Oh yeah it was a great experience, it was good to be there' and then we'll be back in four years.'"
Only Cameroon (at No. 43), Ecuador (No. 44), Qatar (No. 50), Saudi Arabia (No. 51) and Ghana (No. 61) are ranked lower than No. 41 Canada in the 32-team World Cup field.
But the Canadians are riding a wave after a glittering qualification campaign contested during the pandemic. John Herdman's men finished first in the CONCACAF final round robin, above Mexico and the U.S., with an 8-2-4 record in making the tournament for the first time since Canada's World Cup debut in 1986.
More recently, the Canadians were buoyed by a 2-1 win over No. 24 Japan in a final tournament tune-up.
But the World Cup remains essentially uncharted territory. Canada has yet to score a goal or win on the sport's biggest stage.
Belgium, which finished third four years ago in Russia, is making its 14th trip to the World Cup and will hit the 50-game plateau at the tournament in its second match in Qatar. The Red Devils have 20 wins at 68 goals at the soccer showcase.
Forward Jonathan David, a man of few words, isn't buying the numbers
"On any given day, any team can beat anyone," he said. "If it falls on the right day, of course we can win."
Piette said the Canadians have set goals on this World Cup journey.
"We know it's been a long time coming and we know we have that chance to be first in some stuff like be the first Canadian team to score, to win a game, to get a clean sheet, advance to the next stage," he said. "But you don't realize all the noise that's back home and around the team while you're in it. The only thing you're concentrating on is the preparation on that first game and what you need to do to get those firsts.
"I think people are realizing slowly but surely that we're at the World Cup. But for us it's a football game and a football game we want to win ... Yes, it's a big task. We already know that, but we'll be prepared for that. It's part of our DNA, our identity, being on the front foot and not being scared of anyone. We showed that against the U.S., against Mexico, against the Japanese and why not do that against Belgium."
After training in the morning Saturday, the Canadians switched to an evening session Sunday with the temperature a more benign 24 degrees Celsius complete with a cooling breeze.
Wednesday's game against Belgium at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium is a 10 p.m. local time start.
The Canadians practised as Ecuador beat Qatar 2-0 in the tournament opener Sunday at Al Bayt Stadium, some 30 kilometres northeast of Canada's training facility. It marked the first time the World Cup host has lost the opening game.
While the musical soundtrack to Saturday's warmup for Canada's training featured Jamaican dancehall, Sunday's playlist had a more African feel with songs from Nigeria's Victony, Soundz and Joeboy, Ghana's Smallgod and Camidoh, and Nigerian-born London-based Kid AlpHa.
Prior to the Canadians taking the field, Herdman and his staff entertained themselves by kicking a ball around. And one tiny part of the desert got a shower thanks to a potent pitch sprinkler system that caught several nearby photographers by surprise. .
Herdman used to run a Brazilian soccer school in his early 20s in England so knows a few things. Perhaps with their tongue slightly in cheek, the Canadian women used to call him the Black Flash in his days in charge of that team, a reference both to his track suit and his ball work.
NOTES: Canada will be wearing all white Wednesday with the goalkeeper in turquoise. Belgium, known as the Red Devils, will be clad in red jerseys and black shorts. FIFA, showing its attention to detail, says the ball kids will be in grey.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press