World Cup: Canada breaks through for early score before losing to Croatia

Croatia's Luka Modric fights for the ball with Canada's Kamal Miller during the World Cup group F soccer match between Croatia and Canada, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Croatia's Luka Modric, right, gets entangled with Canada's Kamal Miller as they fall to the field during a World Cup group-play game Sunday in Qatar. (Darko Vojinovic / Associated Press)

The last time Canada went to the World Cup, Diego Maradona was still playing, the Soviet Union made it to the round of 16 and synthetic balls replaced leather ones for the first time.

The team’s stay was short, with Canada going home after losing its three group-play games without scoring. Two games into this World Cup, Canada once again has no wins, no points and no chance of getting out of group play after a 4-1 loss to Croatia on Sunday.

The Canadians did score a goal and that counts as progress.

“We've wanted that for our country a very long time,” said midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, who Sunday became the first Canadian to make his 100th international appearance. “Just to see the ball hit the back of the net, it was great.”

Hutchinson, 39, is the oldest player on a young Canadian team that, in four years, will join the U.S. and Mexico in hosting the World Cup when many of their players will be in their prime. Hutchinson, meanwhile, will be in his living room.

He got a chance to bow out on soccer’s biggest stage, something he was sure would elude him because until last year Canada hadn’t qualified for the final round of regional World Cup qualifying since 1994.

“I always dreamt of playing in a World Cup,” he said. “It's something I didn't think was going happen.”

For the players Hutchinson will soon be leaving behind, that dream will be picked up in four years, making the trip to Qatar an important learning experience. The first lesson was watch what you say.

After Canada outplayed Belgium but lost its opener, an exuberant John Herdman, Canada’s coach, repeated to a TV interviewer what he said he told his players.

“I just told them they belong here and we’re going to go and f--- Croatia next,” he said.

Oops. Croatia, the World Cup runner-up in 2018, did not appreciate being called out by a coach whose team hadn’t been to the tournament since disco was popular.

“I want to thank the Canada coach for the motivation,” said Andrej Kramaric, who scored two of Croatia’s four goals Sunday. “In the end, Croatia demonstrated who effed whom.”

Added Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic of Herdman: “He is a high-quality professional, but it will take time for him to learn some things.”

Canada got its first World Cup goal out of the way quickly, with Alphonso Davies scoring just 68 seconds after the kickoff. The goal was the quickest of this World Cup, but Canada would get just more shot on goal the rest of the night.

That allowed Kramaric to even the score in the 36th minute, taking a smart pass from Ivan Perisic deep in the box and sending a low shot in at the far post. Then with a minute left in first-half regulation time, Marko Livaja put Croatia ahead to stay, although Josip Juranovic made the goal possible with a 40-yard diagonal run through the wide-open middle of the Canadian defense. Juranovic briefly lost the ball to a challenge for Kamal Miller, but after regaining possession he slipped the ball through Miller’s leg to Lavaja for the easy finish.

Kramaric put the game away with his second goal of the night in the 70th minute, settling a long far-post pass from Perisic along on the right side of the box, taking one long step toward the center and delivering a left-footed shot through the legs of Hutchinson and inside the left post.

Lovro Majer closed out the scoring four minutes into second-half stoppage time after Miller lost the ball at midfield. That allowed Majer and Mislav Orsic, who had entered the game together eight minutes earlier, to gallop away on a counterattack, which ended with Orsic unselfishly gifting the goal to Majer, who had an easy finish.

Croatia now goes on to its final game of group play against Belgium needing only a tie to move on to the knockout stage. A loss, however, would send Croatia home if Morocco gets at least a point against Canada, a team which has already turned its focus from this World Cup to the World Cup it will be hosting.

“I'm proud of what they what they achieved, which was to make some history for our country,” Herdman said of his team. “We've got a big game coming up against Morocco. There's a lot for us to play for. We came here to make history. This last game is about getting a result and winning for Canada and really making this country believe that we're in the right direction for 2026.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.