‘We‘ll qualify if we have to,‘ Team Canada coach says of 2026 World Cup

The jubilant head coach of the Canadian men’s national soccer team says the squad will play in the 2026 World Cup hosted by North America whether or not FIFA grants an automatic entry to the three host nations.

“We’ll get the team performing and we’ll qualify if we have to,” John Herdman told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday, just about an hour after the announcement that the joint bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States had beaten Morocco to host the 48-team tournament.

“We’ve got a group of men who are hungry and ready to become the last team to earn the right, officially earn the right, to qualify for 2022, which is Qatar. And then we’ve got an eye on the pathway, the infrastructure, the development system to make sure that the right players arrive at the right time in 2026. Our game’s in a great space.”

Herdman, who coached the women’s national squad when Canada hosted the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015, says “we were singing O Canada with 60,000 people, alongside everyone that was watching. This is going to another level. The men’s World Cup will take this country to a place it’s never been before.”

Canada’s men’s team has not played in the World Cup since 1986 but traditionally, host countries do get to play. It hasn’t been confirmed if that will be the case with the joint bid.

CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, has seven slots in the World Cup.

“It’s up to CONCACAF to look into that and see how they want to organize their qualification for this and have a discussion about that in the weeks to come,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said.

Victor Montagliani, the Canadian who leads CONCACAF, wants the host nations to take three of the qualification slots reserved for the region.

Herdman said there is precedent for the nations involved in joint bids being granted entry, pointing to Japan and South Korea in 2002. But even if that doesn’t happen, Canada will be on the field in 2026, he told CTV News Channel.

“We’re not missing our own home World Cup. It’s that simple.”

Herdman pointed to the performance of national team member Alphonso Davies, 17, who spoke to delegates ahead of their vote Wednesday, as representative of the quality of the young talent on his team.

“Our Canadian kids have got a big opportunity and I think that 2026 makes sure that many of them that might have left our shores to play for other countries will stay.”

The plan is that Canada and Mexico would each host 10 matches, while 60 matches would be played in the United States. Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal are in the running to be among the 16 host cities.

“I’m a proud Canadian citizen and my dream is to one play in the World Cup, maybe even in my hometown of Edmonton,” said Davies, whose parents fled the civil war in Liberia. He was born in Ghana in a refugee camp.

“It was a hard life. But when I was five years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in,” he told delegates at the FIFA Congress in Moscow.

“The people of North America have always welcomed me. If given the opportunity, I know they will welcome you.”

Montreal city Coun. Rosannie Filato, who is responsible for sports and recreation, said the city implemented an action plan in 2016 to host international sporting events and is investing in transit systems.

“We are going to be ready.”

Herdman, meanwhile, says hosting the event will be a “game changer” for Canadian soccer. There has been success on the women’s side and the men’s game has been waiting for something like this, he said.

“It will change the mindset of our players, the focus, the commitment to the maple leaf… It’s an opportunity to change the game and unite people around something that’s just so special,” said Herdman, who took over the men’s squad in February.

“It’s starting to hit home now, that, wow, it’s here. We’ve landed a World Cup. In not many people’s lifetime did they ever experience a home World Cup and Canadians are going to get it. Wow, it’s phenomenal.”