2022 FIFA World Cup: How Canada could approach pivotal Croatia game

Faizal Khamisa, Craig Forrest and James Sharman break down Mbappe's dominance for France, Messi's magic for Argentina, and the pressure that faces Croatia as they take on underdogs Canada in each team's second match of the World Cup group stage.

DOHA, Qatar – It’s a very simple task for the Canadian men’s national team on Sunday.

Win or draw against Croatia, and the team has everything to play for in the Group F finale versus Morocco. A loss means their 2022 FIFA World Cup ends on Dec. 1.

Canada showed it belonged on this stage with an emphatic performance against Belgium on Wednesday. But a lack of incisiveness in the box cost them in a 1-0 defeat which has landed the Canadians in a must-not-lose scenario against the 2018 finalists.

This will be a tough match and one that could be one of the more intriguing tactical battles of this World Cup. Like every other game, Canada has to be perfect if it wants the Morocco game to mean something.

Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of Sunday’s game.


Here is how Canada could line up against Croatia.

The two potential changes could involve Junior Hoilett and Richie Laryea. Johnston is on a yellow-card warning, so there’s a chance he might not be risked but nothing is certain.

“We’re not thinking about cards or anything like that,” said Canada coach John Herdman. “I’ve looked at what this game needs, it’s going to need different things to Belgium and we’ve got a full roster to choose from so that’s exciting for a coach.”

Cyle Larin performed well off the bench versus Belgium, so he should grab a place in the lineup.

As for Croatia, this could be their lineup.

Nikola Vlasic is a doubt due to a calf injury that he suffered against Morocco. Mario Pasalic could check in, although it’s possible that Andrej Kramaric moves from centre forward to the right with Marko Livaja starting up front.


With Croatia’s midfield likely grabbing control of the game, expect Canada to target the flanks.

The odds of that occurring are buoyed by Croatia left-back Borna Sosa being isolated defensively due to Ivan Perisic being dragged across the pitch.

Morocco combined beautifully with triangles on that side with Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech and Sofyan Amrabat. Hakimi and Ziyech constantly rotated with one player moving more inside and the other hugging the touchline to pull Perisic out and free Hakimi to run at Sosa.

This combination worked to perfection in the 62nd minute when Hakimi and Ziyech combined again.

First, Hakimi – marked by Perisic – laid off a pass to Ziyech.

Sosa pushed up to pressure Ziyech, but in doing so, it freed up tons of space for Hakimi.

Hakimi eventually had room to hit a cutback towards Sofiane Boufal, or if that failed, runners at the back post could latch onto it.

“There’s some things that are going to give us more space on the sides or something’s going to give us more space in the middle,” said midfielder Stephen Eustaquio. “But on a stage like this, I think it’s so hard to play against all the teams because they’re so well prepared tactically, physically, you know what’s in the details.

“We can see a lot of surprises happening.”

Given Canada’s fondness for cutbacks, this is the perfect strategy. Johnston will have opportunities to get forward, plus Tajon Buchanan is a menace himself. Osorio times his late runs beautifully to receive those cutbacks. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David regularly shadow into the box, so if they get that yard of separation, that could snap the team’s World Cup drought.


It’s no secret that Croatia’s midfield is world class. It’s partially why Herdman expects a completely different match compared to the opener versus Belgium.

Shutting down Croatia’s is a futile attempt. Teams can only hope to limit the damage, which is what Morocco managed on Wednesday.

Morocco’s counter-pressing and general organization was spot on. It held Croatia to just five shots. But there were a couple moments when they were late to close down Croatian midfielders.

Provided Canada is diligent with its assignments, there is a way to negate the threat of Croatia’s midfield when it has possession.

The centre forward, likely Larin, can screen the area around Marcelo Brozovic, who will be the orchestrator from deeper areas. Atiba Hutchinson, Canada’s deepest-lying midfielder, would be focused solely on marking the zone around him. Then Eustaquio can mark Luka Modric with David locking up with Mateo Kovacic, or vice versa.

This enables Canada to put immediate pressure on the midfielders while ensuring there is protection in front of the defence. Modric loves to arrive into the box late, so Hutchinson can pay attention to those tendencies.

It’s a lot to ask from Canada, but with multiple players taking part in marquee games in the UEFA Champions League and top European leagues, they’re ready for the challenge.

“Against top teams and against top players, any half-second that you’re switched off, any detail that you don’t get correctly, that’s a goal against,” said Eustaquio. “I think we felt that against Belgium.”

It’s all well and good to apply certain lessons from other games but the issue with the World Cup is that plans change at a moment’s notice.

“Croatia will be making amendments for Canada,” Herdman stated. “You can learn things from those games but a lot of our work was done prior to coming in.

“I think at times some of the tactics will go out the window when when it gets too late can be quite an open game.”

Given how well Morocco fared in a back-and-forth contest, that might behoove a similar team in Canada on Sunday.

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