After what he described as a statement said during an “impassioned moment,” Canadian men’s national team head coach John Herdman has found himself in hot water with Croatians. During his post-match comments following Canada’s heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Belgium in its World Cup opener, Herdman said the team is planning to move on and “F Croatia.”
This statement was met with a lot of backlash and Herdman promptly apologized, but the damage has seemingly already been done. 24sata—one of the biggest daily newspapers in Croatia—plastered a photoshopped image of a naked Herdman sporting a maple over his mouth and private parts on the front page, asking “You have the mouth but do you have the balls as well?”
This was Canada’s first game on soccer’s biggest stage since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but it’s a completely different team with a completely different attitude this time around. Instead of lining up defensively against the second-ranked team in the world, Canada pressed high, dictated the pace of the game, and created the bulk of the chances against Belgium.
Result notwithstanding, it was a clear statement of intent from an up-and-coming soccer program — one that is getting its first taste of the bright lights of World Cup play with a legitimate shot at reaching the Round of 16. However, Herdman’s comments might do more harm than good as they will undoubtedly light a fire under every single Croatian player when the two teams kick off on Sunday.
For just under 135,000 Croatians or people of Croatian descent living in Canada, an already enticing game will now become historic. This could be the beginning of one of the most unlikely rivalries in soccer, and their group stage match — which very well may decide who advances to the knockout stages — seems to have gotten even spicier.
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