Canada dug itself an early hole Thursday and couldn’t find a way out despite a late surge, exiting the World Cup winless for the second time in 36 years after a disappointing 2-1 loss to Morocco.
Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri scored for No. 22 Morocco, which took advantage of horrendous Canada defending to lead 2-0 after 23 minutes. Canada got an Nayef Aguerd own goal to cut the lead to 2-1 at the break.
The Moroccans flooded the field at the final whistle, having secured their place at the top of Group F and a berth in the round of 16.
“It’s been the first time in a long time of being here,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “We’d like to have been here longer, that’s for sure. But we’ve enjoyed the ride.”
The 41st-ranked Canadians gave the ball away at will and were second-best to the pacey, opportunistic Atlas Lions, whose counter-attack had Canada wobbling in the first half.
Herdman switched pitchside from no jacket to Canada tracksuit top to suit jacket as he tried to find a winning combination on and off the field. But there was little flow to the Canadian attack until he began making substitutions at the hour mark.
That sparked a spell of Canada pressure with Morocco barely holding on. The Canadians came oh so close in the 71st minute when substitute Atiba Hutchinson’s header off a corner hit the crossbar and bounced untouched to the ground but did not quite get all the way over the goal-line.
Hutchinson, in his 101st appearance for Canada, held his head in disbelief as Moroccan fans behind the goal exhaled.
Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou almost lost the handle on the ball in the 87th minute but held on to prevent disaster and the Atlas Lions survived four minutes of stoppage time — with Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan coming up for a corner as fans roared their sides on.
“We battled for a period,” Herdman said. “I think we were on the ropes for periods in the first 20-odd minutes but we came back, we adapted. I think we showed that resilience to get through that tough moment. And we were bending but we didn’t break. We pushed through.”
The Canadians finish the tournament with zero points, having lost 1-0 to No. 2 Belgium and 4-1 to No. 12 Croatia in their first two matches.
And while the Canadians earned kudos for their showing against Belgium and Alphonso Davies scored a first-ever goal at the men’s soccer showcase in the Croatia game, they exit the tournament yet to get a result in two trips to the World Cup.
Canada went 0-3-0 at the 1986 tournament in Mexico, losing 1-0 to France and 2-0 to both Hungary and the Soviet Union.
The Davies goal proved to be a bow on a World Cup showing that went downhill after a good start.
No. 12 Croatia also moved on after a 0-0 draw with No. 2 Belgium in the other Group F match, which kicked off simultaneously 25 kilometres to the northwest at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Morocco started with a 16-pass sequence from the kickoff, resulting in a cross through the Canadian penalty box. It got worse for Canada after that.
After scoring 68 seconds into the game against Croatia last time out, it was Canada that had the disastrous start this time after defender Steven Vitoria mis-hit an attempted backpass in the fourth minute.
Borjan came out of his penalty box with En-Nesyri steaming towards him. But instead of booting the ball to safety, Borjan seemed caught in two minds on whether to pass or clear. Instead the ball squirted forward straight to Ziyech, who looped it into the goal from distance as Borjan desperately tried to race back to his goal-line.
Borjan put his hands on his hips and turned away in disgust as FIFA president Gianni Infantino offered a bemused smile from his box.
Canada has been involved in the first two goals scored in the opening five minutes at the tournament.
En-Nesyri doubled the lead in the 23rd minute after a long ball from Paris Saint-Germain star fullback Achraf Hakimi split the Canadian defence. The Sevilla forward outpaced Vitoria and Kamal Miller, controlling the ball with his left foot and beat a diving Borjan under the arm with a low shot from his right.
Sam Adekugbe threw Canada a lifeline in the 40th minute, beating a defender down the left flank and putting a ball in on goal that deflected off Aguerd’s outstretched foot past Bounou.
Morocco outshot Canada 8-2 (3-0 in shots on target) in the first half.
Morocco tied Croatia 0-0 before upsetting Belgium 2-0 and went into Thursday’s game knowing a win or a draw would send it into the round of16 for the second time in six World Cup appearances.
For the Canadian men, the runway now begins to a home World Cup with Canada, Mexico and the U.S. co-hosting an expanded 48-team tournament in 2026.
Herdman made four changes to his starting 11, revamping his midfield in the process with Adekugbe, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio and Junior Hoilett coming in for Hutchinson, Stephen Eustaquio, Richie Laryea and Jonathan David.
Eustaquio (hamstring) was an injury concern before the match. Borjan captained Canada in Hutchinson’s absence.
Bounou, born in Montreal but raised in Morocco, turned down an offer to wear Canadian colours from former Canada coach Benito Floro before playing for Morocco. The Sevilla ‘keeper won the Zamora Trophy last season for the lowest goals-against average in Spain’s La Liga.
Fans from both countries turned up the volume at Al Thumama Stadium right from the get-go, making for a pulsating atmosphere. Attendance was announced at 43,102.
After going ahead, the Moroccans kept up the pressure. Canada finally had a chance in the 15th minute when a sliding Tajon Buchanan just missed getting his boot to a low Cyle Larin cross raked across the box.
A first-half stoppage-time goal by En-Nesyri after a Moroccan free kick was flagged offside.
Herdman sent on Hutchinson, David and Ismael Kone in the 60th minute in a bid to spark the comeback. Laryea followed five minutes later with David Wotherspoon entering the game in the 76th.
Morocco came into the game with a 3-9-6 record at the World Cup, having beaten Portugal 3-1 in 1986 and Scotland 3-0 in 1998 as well as Belgium here.
Canada was looking for its first win over the Atlas Lions, having lost twice and drawn once in previous meetings. Morocco won 4-0 the last time they met, in October 2016 in Marrakech.
Morocco, which had not conceded a goal in its six previous matches, was aiming to win back-to-back matches at the World Cup for the first time.
Morocco came into the match having won 11 of its previous 13 games against CONCACAF nations. Canada, meanwhile, had won just one of its last six outings against African teams (1-3-2).
Thumama Stadium located 12 kilometres south of Doha, opened in October 2021. It is designed to replicate the ‘gahfiya’, a traditional woven cap worn by men and boys across the Middle East and Arab world.
Upon arrival at the stadium, the Canadian walked out to inspect the pitch to the sound of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
Brazilian Raphael Claus was in charge of the match.