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Canada is about to play in the World Cup. Here’s everything you need to become a soccer expert

With a week to go until the FIFA World Cup begins, Canada’s national men’s team is putting the final touches on preparations for a tournament 36 years in the making.

The team had only qualified once previously — in 1986 — which means a whole new generation of supporters are gearing up to cheer for the national squad as it enters the world’s top soccer tournament.

To help Canadians understand the path to a title win, and who might eventually prevail, CBC News has prepared a guide for bandwagon fans, with everything you need to know about the beautiful game — and Canada’s chances.

Do you have a question about the World Cup? Send it to us at

Soccer newbie, here! What basics should I know?

The World Cup is held every four years. Canada is one of 32 teams after qualifying in its continental federation’s tournament.

Qatar is hosting this year’s tournament (it’s controversial — more on that later) and will play the opening match against Ecuador on Nov. 20. 

The World Cup final is scheduled for Dec. 18, with the winner taking home the FIFA World Cup trophy.

In case you were wondering, there’s also a Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Australia and New Zealand next July — and Canada will be playing.

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The Al Thumama Stadium is pictured in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday. Qatar has spent tens of billions of dollars on new infrastructure for the World Cup. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

How does the competition work?

First, the group stage: The teams are separated into eight groups of four, and will play each team in their own group once. There will be four matches each day over a 12-day period.

In this stage, a win is worth three points, a draw worth one and a loss earns zero points. The top two teams from each group — that is, the teams with the most “points” — will advance to the knockout round.

The knockout round: The remaining 16 teams will play against different groups (for instance, the top team in group A will play the second-top team in group B).  Each losing team is eliminated from the tournament until the semifinals, when there are four teams left. Two will advance to the final, while the remaining two will play for third place.

Who is Canada playing against?

Canada is in group F, so will play Belgium (Nov. 23), Croatia (Nov. 27) and Morocco (Dec. 1) in the group stage.

For the soccer uninitiated, that’s three tough matchups: Belgium is currently second in FIFA’s men’s rankings, Croatia lost the 2018 World Cup final to France, and Morocco was undefeated in its World Cup qualifying run.

This graphic shows the eight groups for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. After the group stage is completed, the winners and runners-up from each group are placed into a 16-team bracket for the knockout stage. The winners of the round of 16 proceed to the quarter-finals, then the semifinals and, for two teams, the final on Dec. 18.

So, we’re not going to win the World Cup?

Experts say probably not — but don’t let that get you down.

Remember: this is Canada’s second-ever World Cup. In 1986, the team lost all three games, without scoring.

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Canada’s team sings the national anthem ahead of a friendly match against Qatar in Vienna on Sept. 23. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

“The benchmark of success, in some ways, is a goal … If they get a win, that would be enormous,” said soccer writer Chris Jones, who will be in Qatar covering the World Cup for CBC Sports.

“If Canada gets out of the group [stage], that’s incredible, like, that’s our version of winning the World Cup.”

Who’s likely to win, then?

Bookmakers are favouring Brazil to win the tournament, followed by Argentina, which hasn’t hoisted the Cup since 1986.

France, the 2018 champs, are third favourite, followed by England, whose fans are praying for their first World Cup title since 1966.

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Brazil is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the World Cup. The team’s captain, Neymar, is pictured in Rio de Janeiro on June 23, 2021. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Tell me more about the Canadian team. Who should I name-drop?

Canada’s full roster was announced on Sunday — headlined by Alphonso Davies, one of the world’s best young soccer players.

Fans were left worried after the 22-year-old suffered a hamstring strain while playing for Bayern Munich over the weekend, but the German club told CBC News that Davies’s participation in the World Cup “is not at risk.”

Tajon Buchanan, 23, is also a rising international star who plays for Belgian First Division A side Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League. “This is a very exciting player. This is a guy who opposing defenders absolutely loathe dealing with because he’s so quick,” said soccer journalist John Molinaro, a CBC contributor and the founder of TFC Republic.

Captain Atiba Hutchinson is overcoming a long injury to play in his first World Cup. At 39, it’s also set to be his last. “From an emotional perspective, it’ll be fun to see him [play],” said Andi Petrillo, host of CBC Sports’ Soccer North.

Also keep an eye out for defensive midfielder Stephen Eustaquio and forward Jonathan David who are both heading to Qatar from standout seasons in Europe. “If you had to place a bet on which Canadian man was going to score the first goal in World Cup history, I think Jonathan David is a really good bet,” Jones said.

WATCH | An update on Alphonso Davies’s injury: 

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Alphonso Davies Injury update, Canada Soccer’s stars impress

5 days ago

Duration 3:56

Soccer North host, Andi Petrillo gets you caught up with how Canada’s best did around globe this week in ‘Keeping Up with the Canadians’.

You mentioned there’s controversy around this World Cup. Tell me more?

There are several, including the heat, Qatar’s human rights record, Iran’s participation and, as has become the World Cup norm, corruption allegations involving FIFA.

First, the heat: Expect to see the players sweating in 30 C-plus temperatures. The tournament was moved from June-July to November to keep it a bit cooler. But that shift also means many players are coming straight from European and North American soccer seasons, without a break to acclimatize to the heat.

“They are probably going to be a bit more sloppy and slower, so to speak, in their play than if they were in a kind of a perfect thermal situation,” said Prof. Stephen Cheung, an expert in environmental stress on human physiology at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.

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A migrant worker sleeps on a bench in front of Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Oct. 15. Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, including those constructing its World Cup stadiums, has been in the spotlight in the lead-up to the tournament. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

That heat has also proven deadly for potentially thousands of migrant workers in Qatar, a figure Qatar’s government disputes, which brings us to another controversy: Qatar’s human rights record.

Same-sex relationships are criminalized in the host country, with LGBTQ+ people facing arbitrary arrest and abuse from security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Then there’s Iran’s participation: in recent days, Ukraine and international activists have called on FIFA to ban Iran from taking part due to its role supplying weapons to Russia, as well as its crackdown on activists.

FIFA has responded by telling teams to “focus on the football”, rather than human rights issues, at the same time as the football organization continues to be dogged by corruption allegations.

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino recently wrote to the 32 teams participating in the World Cup, urging them to “focus on the football,” rather than human rights issues in Qatar. Infantino is pictured in Managua, Nicaragua, in August. (Inti Ocon/The Associated Press)

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges FIFA officials took bribes in exchange for awarding Qatar the hosting rights back in 2010. It’s just one of many such accusations levelled against FIFA and its leadership in recent years.

Yikes. OK. Anything else I should be watching for?

Two huge names in soccer are (probably) playing their final World Cup: Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Neither has ever won the World Cup, so hoisting the trophy during their final tournament would be a massive deal for either captain — and their country’s fans.

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Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, left, and Argentina’s Lionel Messi are likely playing their final World Cup. Neither has won the trophy during their career. (Albert Gea/Reuters)

Any tips for my World Cup viewing schedule?

You can view the schedule so far here. Unfortunately for Canadian fans, World Cup kickoff times are between 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET, which could make it challenging to tune in on a workday (especially from a bar), unless your boss is also a soccer fan. 

Finally, am I supposed to say soccer or football?

Although Canada, the U.S. and Australia call the game “soccer,” the World Cup is officially a “football” competition, and FIFA is short for Fédération Internationale de Football Association. You can keep calling it soccer if you want — just be prepared for other teams’ fans to correct you.

Watch the new CBC Sports show Soccer North airing weekly on CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports YouTube channel. Hosted by Andi Petrillo, Soccer North brings Canadians closer to the most interesting soccer headlines happening on and off the pitch. Soccer North will be LIVE following all of Canada’s games in Qatar.

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