AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Nov 30 (Reuters) - For Canada an early exit from the Qatar World Cup will not mark the end but a beginning, the first step for a young group on the road to the 2026 soccer showcase that they will co-host with the United States and Mexico.
With straight losses to Belgium and Croatia the Canadians enter their final Group F match against Morocco on Thursday knowing they are headed home no matter the result. But coach John Herdman made it clear his men still have plenty to play for with one more shot at a historic maiden win.
Appearing at the World Cup for just the second time, Canada came to Qatar with a long to do list after failing to win a game or even find the back of the net in Mexico 36 years ago.
Some of those objectives have been achieved, including a first goal from talisman Alphonso Davies in a 4-1 loss to Croatia.
But a first World Cup win against Morocco, who are in a fight for top spot in the group, would be the highlight of the tournament for the Canadians and provide the perfect launch pad for 2026.
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"The team set clear goals coming in here," Herdman told reporters on Wednesday. "First team to score a goal, first team to show up fearless, first team to keep a clean sheet, first team to get a result, first team to get a win.
"We've missed out on being the first team to get out of the group stage.
"But we believe those goals are still available, there's a desire and a hunger and all the players have bought in."
After finishing top of CONCACAF qualifying ahead of regional powerhouses the United States and Mexico, Canada arrived at the World Cup with high expectations.
They were applauded for their appealing attacking flair, but Qatar has been an eye-opener as the team often appeared overwhelmed on sport's biggest stage.
In the end Qatar turned into a learning experience and there were hard lessons, even for Herdman, who showed up late for his first press conference and shockingly boasted that his team was "going to eff Croatia".
It was a more humble and reflective Herdman fielding questions on Wednesday, heaping praise on Morocco and on his own men.
"We had great moments against Belgium and Croatia, football moments we can be proud," said Herdman. "Tomorrow is a real opportunity for our country, our players to keep stepping forward.
"We'll go into this match with the opportunity to make some more history."
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