22WC_Bernier_lineup-prediction_MAR

Yes, Canada are eliminated from the World Cup. But it’s incorrect to say there’s nothing to play for in this Group F finale Thursday against Morocco (10 am ET | FOX, Telemundo in US; TSN in Canada).

This team is out to get a result, something the 1986 squad couldn’t accomplish. They’ve already got Canada’s first goal at a men’s World Cup thanks to Alphonso Davies, but they want to set even more history. 

If Canada can get points off Morocco, there may be a feeling of what could have been. That close loss to Belgium will sting for a while, and there’d be all to play for in that situation where there’s a point (or three) in hand. 

Here’s who I see being in head coach John Herdman’s latest starting XI at the World Cup. There’s clear motivation to finalize the tournament on a high note.

Canada predicted XI vs. Morocco
Lineup changes

I don't see Herdman just giving out minutes so everyone can participate in the World Cup. They have the mindset to come out with the best performance Canada will have had at a World Cup, to set the tone for the next World Cup. That means having the best potential XI out there, just with some fresher legs where needed.

Center back

One of the questions I could see, though, is if Steven Vitoria starts. Maybe they want to put Atiba Hutchinson in there at center back. The captain has played there before and his legs were tiring in the Croatia loss on Sunday.

I have a hunch that because the backline wasn't great against Croatia, and Atiba has a great football IQ and has played there before, we could see it. You want to control the ball out there when possible and have those passes to break lines. It also makes him run less, being in the center of the defense.

Central midfield

If Atiba shifts back and Stephen Eustáquio can’t go, I could see Canada calling on Jonathan Osorio and Mark-Anthony Kaye in the engine room. They’re two players who are similar in some ways and have a lot of experience.

Osorio is dynamic, likes to play between the lines and is involved in possession. Kaye is more of a central figure who likes to distribute and can go forward, has the athleticism to move up and down.

We'll see a lot of midfield battles against Morocco, and it’s so key that Canada win their fair share.

Striker

I want to see one of Canada’s strikers get a goal at the World Cup. And I think it could be Jonathan David, who’s been one of the top scorers in Ligue 1 and is the best striker in Concacaf. If the US had him, for example, they’d be a bigger threat in the knockout rounds.

David is more a finisher than he is a creator, so service will play a big part. So far, has he been put in a position where he 100% should have scored? You can’t say that, though there have been some chances.

David needs to, in this third game, be a bit more involved and maybe even more selfish to score. He has the tools to score goals, and we're not questioning his capabilities at all. With service and concentration, he could follow through.

Big picture

These three games are a journey of experience and seeing the learning curve at a World Cup. Now for the future, these next three and a half years, you need to keep playing this level of opponent. 

Yes, you have Nations League and Gold Cup where you must play teams from your own region – but you won't have qualifiers before co-hosting in 2026. So the only way to maintain that is to play the highest-level teams out there. 

Maybe they get that invite to Copa America and then you ensure all friendly dates in a calendar year are against top-20, top-30 teams in the world. That way you maintain the level of competition you can reach in the World Cup.

Before then, Morocco aren’t going to be a walk in the park. They’re maybe an undervalued team and don't have traditionally strong players, though Achraf Hakimi is just now being billed as arguably the world's best right back and Hakim Ziyech is a very good attacker. 

Nobody really talks about Morocco, though. Belgium and Croatia were naturally set as frontrunners in Group F and Canada was the Cinderella story, a country that's not known for soccer and arrives at the World Cup. Morocco has been in the shadows, they did the work. This won't be easy for Canada.