What's at stake in Canada's final World Cup match

CBC Sports' daily newsletter explains what an eliminated Canadian team can still achieve when it faces Morocco on Thursday in Qatar.
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. .

We hoped it would end better than this. And, for a moment, it seemed like it might. When Alphonso Davies headed in Tajon Buchanan's marvelous cross 68 seconds into Sunday's match in Qatar, Canada's chances of advancing to the knockout stage at its first men's World Cup in 36 years suddenly felt pretty good. But a seasoned Croatia team quickly exposed the rookies' weaknesses and sent them to a humbling 4-1 defeat that eliminated Canada from contention for the round of 16 after just two matches — the bare minimum.

To call this a failure would be technically accurate, but perhaps missing the big picture. An inexperienced team that wasn't expected to make the World Cup until 2026 (when Canada co-hosts) arrived way ahead of schedule and immediately proved it belongs on sports' biggest stage by outplaying second-ranked Belgium in a 1-0 loss. The Canadians got taken down a peg (or two) by Croatia, but not before another landmark achievement as Davies scored the country's first-ever goal in a men's World Cup. There's a lot to be proud of from a team that oddsmakers gave only a 1-in-4 chance of making it out of the group stage.

Having said that… man, a point would sure be nice. For all the good vibes around this team's long-awaited return to the World Cup and its promising future, the buzz-killing bottom line is that Canada is now 0-5 in men's World Cup matches. That's an inconvenient truth for a country still fighting to be taken seriously (at least beyond its borders) as a legitimate men's soccer contender. A point-less record would also be a terrible weight to carry for the next four years leading into the 2026 tournament.

Davies and company have one last chance to shed that burden when they play their final match of this World Cup on Thursday at 10 a.m. ET vs. Morocco. It won't be easy. The North African side is ranked 22nd in the world (19 spots above Canada) and has put itself in great position to advance after playing that tough Croatia team to a scoreless draw and beating shaky Belgium 2-0. A win or a tie vs. Canada will ensure Morocco of a berth in the round of 16 for the first time since 1986, so the Atlas Lions will be highly motivated.

Canada should be too, as coach John Herdman and some of his players have spoken openly about their desire to become the first Canadian squad to earn a win (or even just a point) at the men's World Cup after the 1986 team lost all three of its matches without scoring a goal. "This last game is about getting a result and winning for Canada, and really making this country believe that we're in the right direction for 2026," Herdman said.

Australia pulled off a genuine shocker, advancing to the round of 16 by defeating Denmark 1-0. The 38th-ranked Socceroos were considered filler in a Group D headlined by defending World Cup champion France and European Championship semifinalist Denmark. But they beat Tunisia and the disappointing Danes to finish second behind the French, who suffered a stunning (though ultimately inconsequential) 1-0 loss to Tunisia today after an apparent tying goal in the dying second was disallowed.

Australia will meet Argentina in the round of 16 after the South American powerhouse continued its resurgence from an astonishing opening loss to Saudi Arabia by beating Poland 2-0 to win Group C. Mexico then defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1, but not before giving up a very late goal that sent Poland through on a tiebreaker. The Poles will face France. Read more about today's matches here

The outcomes of the Canada vs. Morocco and Croatia vs. Belgium games at 11 a.m. ET will determine which two of Croatia (4 points), Morocco (4) and Belgium (3) advance from Group F.

Group E also remains up for grabs heading into the Germany vs. Costa Rica and Spain vs. Japan contests at 2 p.m. ET. Spain is in the driver's seat with four points and a gaudy plus-7 goal differential, but Japan and Costa Rica are right behind with three points apiece. Germany stayed alive by salvaging a draw with Spain, but their opening loss to Japan means the four-time World Cup champs are still on the brink of disaster with just one point. They need a win and help from European rival Spain to advance.

The Germany-Costa Rica match will be interesting for another reason: French referee Stephanie Frappart is set to become the first woman in charge of a men's World Cup game. Two women will serve as Frappart's assistants — Brazil's Neuza Back and Mexico's Karen Diaz Medina — to make up an all-female crew.

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