DOHA, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Back at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, Canada came to Qatar with high expectations and a bit of swagger but stumbled out of the tournament on Thursday after a third straight loss and head home licking their wounds.
Coach John Herdman praised his men for their fearlessness and attacking style but after Thursday's 2-1 defeat by Morocco the end result was the same as in Canada's only other World Cup appearance in 1986 -- three losses.
Canada arrived in Doha with a long to-do list and to prove they belong among the top soccer nations.
Reaching the round of 16 was a bridge too far however and so was a first win - the highlight of their tournament being the country's first ever goal in a men's World Cup from Alphonso Davies in a 4-1 shellacking by Croatia.
But it was in the hard lessons learned on and off the pitch that Canada can find some value as the country looks ahead to co-hosting the 2026 World Cup with the United States and Mexico.
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"I think there's been some big moments," said Herdman. "As a football country we can definitely be proud of the performances.
"We always said the world level is the next level and I don't think we were far off tonight ... from getting our first result.
"I think for all of us we need to take a deep breath and enjoy what we have experienced here and ask the hard questions because that is part of growth as we move through to 2026.
"This isn't Canada walking away with our heads down, we can keep our heads up."
MASSIVE STEP UP
After finishing top of CONCACAF qualifying ahead of regional powerhouses the United States and Mexico, Canada discovered there is a massive step up in class and quality at a World Cup.
At times Canada, while playing with boundless energy, appeared overwhelmed on the pitch and off it, fumbling routine tasks like showing up on time for news conferences.
Herdman was also tripped up by his own words, claiming after the 1-0 loss to Belgium that Canada was "going to eff Croatia".
A few days later Croatia provided Herdman with their response, a 4-1 thrashing.
Canada produced another exuberant performance against Morocco but again could not deliver the result they came for.
"When you talk about that opportunity to grow through a tournament that's part of it," said Herdman. "This is the first time we have been here in 36 years.
"We've enjoyed the ride. Our players turned up here to compete and we showed that we've been fearless over each of the three games.
"We're a young team, we're developing, we're here for the first time in a long time. It's been a hell of an experience."
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