Analysis: The rise of the Canada men’s soccer team
USA vs Canada prediction, World Cup, football

Analysis: The rise of the Canada men’s soccer team

The Canada men’s soccer team rose to 33rd in the FIFA World Rankings in February 2022, which is their highest-ever placing since the rankings were established in 1992.

However, to truly appreciate the significance of the current team’s achievement we can look back further using another system: the World Football Elo Ratings.

In November 2013, Canada’s Elo rating hit an all-time low after a 1-0 defeat to Slovenia, dropping below 1500 for the first time since the 1970s.

This has been turned around in under a decade and since 2018 the team’s performances have surged beyond what many thought possible.

Their Elo rating recently passed 1800 for the first time in history; put simply, this is the best that the Canada men’s soccer team has ever been.

Canada on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup

With three rounds of fixtures remaining, Canada are unbeaten in the CONCACAF third qualifying round and look likely to reach their first World Cup finals since the 1986 tournament in Mexico.

They currently sit in first place, but even a third-placed finish would be sufficient to qualify automatically.

In the unlikely event that Canada slips to fourth – the lowest they can mathematically finish – they would have to play off against the top team from Oceania for a place in the finals.

Their toughest possible opponent via this route is New Zealand, who are currently ranked a lowly 80th in the Elo ratings and 111th using FIFA’s system.

Canada men’s soccer team breaking records

This World Cup qualification campaign has also delivered a new record win for Canada.

In March 2021 they defeated the Cayman Islands 11-0, surpassing their biggest winning margin by three goals.

In fact, six of the seven largest victories in their history have been achieved since September 2018.

Are Canada becoming part of the CONCACAF elite?

Since 1990, Canada have played 39 matches against either Mexico or the United States – historically the two strongest teams in CONCACAF.

After winning just two of the first 35, they have now registered a win and a draw against each of these nations since the start of the Octagonal in September 2021.

How far can Canada go at the World Cup?

Since the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams in 1998, 20 teams from CONCACAF have qualified for the tournament. Half did not make it out of their group, and only two nations made it as far as the quarter-finals; the United States in 2002 and Costa Rica in 2014.

Assuming that Canada’s current FIFA ranking of 33rd is an accurate reflection of their ability, what does this mean for their chances?

Starting with the 1998 tournament, there have been 30 qualifiers who ranked within five places of 33rd i.e. between 28th and 38th. Only six of these – one in every five – managed to qualify from the group stage, with half of them reaching the quarter-finals.

During this period the average ranking of a team reaching the round of 16 has been 21st, so fans of the Canada men’s soccer team should be hoping that the FIFA rankings are currently underestimating their team’s potential.

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