"O Canada" will echo around the stadiums of Qatar later this year after the nation north of the border confirmed their place at the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986, and for just the second time in their history.
They swept aside Jamaica 4-0 at BMO Field in Toronto to make sure of qualification, with one round of matches remaining in the CONCACAF region, to be played on Wednesday.
Rapids’ midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye was a spectator for Sunday’s historic moment, after being sent off last Thursday in the 1-0 loss in Costa Rica. He is available for the midweek meeting with Panama and is sure to be on the flight to Doha in November when Canada ends its 36-year wait for a place at soccer’s top table.
The last time Canada played at the World Cup finals, they were hosted by Mexico. Canada was in Group C, along with the Soviet Union, France, and Hungary. They finished bottom of the group following three defeats, during which they conceded five goals and scored none.
Kaye told me: “Individually, guys are at the peak of their careers, and it just makes everything mesh a lot easier.
“It’s about time that we are finally on the world stage. The country’s too big and has too many talented players to not be there.”
Canada is blessed with some top-quality players. Along with Kaye, they boast Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, as well as Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge, BEL), Cyle Larin (Besiktas, TUR), and Jonathan David (Lille, FRA).
Compare those to the squad from 1986, which included Scottish-born Colin Miller (Rangers, SCO), Trinidad & Tobago-born Randy Samuel, who had a long stint in the Netherlands with the likes of PSV Eindhoven and Fortuna Sittard, and Wales-born Paul James, who had a brief spell in England with Doncaster Rovers.
Most of the squad of ’86 played in the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League), at clubs such as Minnesota Strikers, Tacoma Stars, Chicago Sting, Cleveland Force, and Los Angeles Lazers.
There is one common thread bridging the 36-year gap, and that is Canada will again be led at a World Cup by an English coach. John Herdman follows in the footsteps of the late Tony Waiters.
Canada’s second bite at the World Cup apple has been a long time coming, and Kaye feels the impact will be felt across the generations.
“We could talk about all three generations which are affected by this,” he said.
“You have the younger generation who are now able to look up to players who have the opportunity to play in a World Cup. That’s huge.
“Then you think of my generation. We also have friends and former teammates that grew up playing the game, just like we did. They maybe didn’t get as far as we did, and they’re supporting us.
“Then you have the older generation that has been waiting for something like this to happen for the longest time, and they’ve never given up the belief in the country.”
A sense of how long that wait has been can be highlighted with a snapshot of life as it was 36 years ago:
· Ronald Reagan was President of the United States
· Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister of Canada
· A gallon of gas in the USA would set you back 89 cents
· A Tandy 600 portable computer was a whopping $1,599
· A Ford Mustang would burn $7,452 in your pocket
· The average cost of a new house was $89,430
· The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its first episode
Canada confirmed their spot in Friday’s World Cup draw, and will be joined by two from the USA, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Only the top three from CONCACAF qualify automatically for the finals in Qatar. The team finishing fourth must face either New Zealand or the Solomon Islands in a playoff, to be played in Qatar in mid-June.
The US are within touching distance after demolishing Panama 5-1 in Orlando. For them to finish fourth, they would have to lose by a six-goal margin in Costa Rica. If that were to happen, then they likely deserve to go through the nerve-jangling playoff game in the summer.
That said, it is vital for Canada, the USA, and Mexico to reach the finals, with all three co-hosting the 2026 World Cup.
MLS has clearly had an impact on the development of talent in the region. That includes those coming through MLS academies who are now faring well at leading clubs in Europe.
Canada’s heroes have raised the bar. They have put the USA and Mexico on notice. They have muscled in on a region long-since dominated by those two, which can only be good for keeping the big boys on their toes and will make the next four years in particular even more interesting.
First, though, the USA needs to finish the job on Wednesday, to then take their place in Friday’s draw. The draw for the group stage of the FIFA World Cup will take place in Doha, Qatar on Friday from 10am MT.