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Canada at the 1986 World Cup: What went wrong
Oct 12, 2022, 8:13:00 AM

Canada at the 1986 World Cup: What went wrong

After 36 years without a World Cup berth, Canada is finally back on football's biggest stage. They have an outside shot of winning the event, but the future is bright for this Canada squad headlined by young stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David. 

This promising squad has made soccer fans show interest in the last time that Canada was in the World Cup. They last played at the World Cup in 1986, and it was a disappointing run for them as they played without winning a game or scoring a goal. 

What went wrong for the Canadian national team back in 1986? Let's see what happened and find out how Canada struggled in the World Cup held in Mexico.

Canada was outmatched during the group stage 

Canada was placed in Group C, which had some powerhouse teams. It left Canada the odd team out because they did not have the rich history like the other teams, as this was their first-ever World Cup berth. The Soviet Union and France had always been vital soccer programs during that time, and Hungary had a good stretch of World Cup berths then. 

Canada did not score a goal 

The difference in quality was evident in Canada's inability to score a goal. They were the only goalless team in the group which was a sign that they were outmatched in terms of overall goal-scoring firepower. 

They had Branko Segota and Igor Vrablic playing as the main goal-scorers. They were skilled players, but at the time, they were not as developed as they were during their physical primes. 

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Group C was stacked with strong teams

The Soviet Union and France were always strong teams during that time. It was a good combination of top-tier talent and solid soccer heritage. 

  • France is one of the top countries of all time with how they develop players. They were in fourth place in the 1982 World Cup and ended up placing third in this event. 

  • On the other side, the Soviet Union had a strong team with mainstays like Rinat Dasayev and Oleh Blokhin leading the way for the squad. In this tournament, they ended their run in the round of 16, which is still a massive achievement given that this was one of the most stacked World Cup events of all time. 

  • Hungary was below those two teams but still had a solid squad at this tournament. They were led by Márton Esterházy and Lajos Détári, who scored a goal apiece in their victory over Canada. 

Most players were inexperienced

While Tony Waiters was a solid manager for Canada, he had an inexperienced squad in 1986. Four of his players were not even part of a professional club during this event, including captain Bruce Wilson. This team was filled with players in their early 20s who did not have the proper experience of international soccer games. 

Only a few players were top professionals

Their opponents had players who were part of European professional teams, which trumped almost every Canadian player in the games. These were the only players on the Canadian side that were not part of teams in their home country or the United States leagues. 

  • Igor Vrablic

  • Terry Moore

  • Ian Bridge

  • Randy Samuel

  • Colin Miller 

The North American leagues were not comparable to the English First Division or La Liga back then. That was the gold standard for club football back then, and the North American teams were not on the same level. Now, the MLS has raised its level to the point that it can be competitive with the European leagues. This rise has benefited North America, especially Canada's player development. 

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Talent was not developed just yet

While they were worthy of being called professional players, Canada's team was not good enough compared to the best groups in the world. Just look at the Argentina squad that won this World Cup, see Diego Maradona's supporting cast, and compare it to Canada. You will see a gulf in talent and development because Argentinians honed themselves to play their best and treated soccer as their country's biggest sport. 

Canada has improved ever since

Back then, Canadians were only driven by their passion for the sport, but they didn't have the structure to support a strong soccer program even though they had the physical assets. Today, they are focusing on building and improving the skills of every player to be ripe for various competitions.

The current squad has players like Davies, David, and Cyle Larin, who are all stars for their teams in Europe. That is a far cry from what happened in 1986, when there were only a few players who could be considered on a similar level. 

Canada was better known for other sports back then

Canada is not known for many sports besides ice hockey which is ingrained in their culture. It is the country's national sport, producing a boatload of ice hockey stars over the years. Thankfully, there is room for soccer now because Canada has a good cast of players. 

The 1986 World Cup was a sign that Canada had the potential to shine at the World Cup. They did not capitalise on that in the past three decades, but they have finally made it back, and they are ready to prove that Canada deserves to be recognised as a top soccer country.

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Canada's bright potential at the 2022 World Cup

With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar coming up, people are excited about how Canada will fare. They have some solid star players who can carry them into the knockout stages if they can play at the highest level. 

Eyes will be on Davis, David, and Larin, but the rest of the Canadian squad will be fun to watch too. They will be managed by John Herdman, who has been outstanding for Canada's women's national team from 2011 to 2018 and the men's side since 2018. 

The players are ready to showcase their talent 

With a lone World Cup appearance back in 1986, Canada wants to bounce back. It will be a valuable opportunity for Canada because if they want to succeed in the long term, they need to inspire more Canadians to play soccer and, eventually, for the national team. The current players are led by team captain Atiba Hutchinson, the most-capped Canadian player ever. 

The Canadian team has some underrated players beyond Davies and the usual stars. Due to the system, most people will look at Davies, David, and Larin, but the underrated pieces will come into the spotlight. Players like Junior Hoilett and Lucas Cavallini are players who can emerge and prove themselves as helpful pieces for the team. 

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Canada will be a success story moving forward

With the players Canada has produced recently, it is fair to say they have a bright future ahead of them. They have successfully inspired the youth to play soccer, and since most of their star players are still young, the next few World Cups will be in good hands with this team. 

Canada is a solid dark horse in the competition if you want a team to watch out for at the World Cup in 2022. Do not miss out on this exciting team because they are ready to showcase their talents at the highest level.

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Words: Cholo Martin


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