Alphonso Davies gets the start for Canada in FIFA World Cup opener


The Bayern Munich winger pulled up with a hamstring strain on Nov. 5, in a German Bundesliga game against Hertha Berlin and hasn’t played since.

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Most of the questions for Canada head coach John Herman leading into its opener against Belgium here at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium were about the health of his star player Alphonso Davies.

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The Bayern Munich winger pulled up with a hamstring strain on Nov. 5, in a German Bundesliga game against Hertha Berlin and hasn’t played since.

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The question was answered as Davies took his spot on the left side of midfield with the rest of his team against the former No. 1-ranked team in the world on Wednesday and played all 90 minutes.

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Apparently, through all the Edmonton product has been over the past year, he was not going to be denied a chance to play in the biggest, most viewed tournament in the world.

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“I don’t think there was any doubt we would be starting him (if healthy), but you have to follow the medical advice, that’s always part of this,” Herdman said in his pre-game press conference. “Our goal first and foremost, is always the safety of the players, so we’ve had to manage that process, and as a coach, you’re always sitting there frustrated when you get the (medical) report.”

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It had been 36 years since Canada played in a men’s World Cup, and the thought of returning to one can stir up strong emotions. When Davies was first injured, most Canadian soccer fans felt a pit in their stomach at the thought the most exciting player in the history of Canadian soccer might not be available to play at the World Cup.

Davies has battled through a string of injuries in the past two years, which kept him out of seven of the 20 qualifying games Canada had to play to get to Qatar. He missed the clinching win against Jamaica at BMO Field in March because of the myocarditis he developed after a bout with COVID-19 in last Christmas.

Last month, Davies got kicked in the head in a Bundesliga game and sustained a cranial bruise. He returned to the Bayern lineup at the end of October only to pull his hamstring, 20 minutes from the end of a 3-2 win against Hertha Berlin.

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Davies stayed a few extra days in Germany to get the hamstring treated while the rest of the Canadian national gathered in Doha and then travelled to Bahrain and the UAE for a pair of exhibition games. Canada defeated Japan 2-1 in Dubai, then returned to train for the opener against Belgium.

It wasn’t until Saturday that Davies got back on the field with his Canada teammates and he slowly worked his way back to full fitness. Davies had declared himself good to go two days ago

“When you speak to the player, you have to able to look into their eyes and get a sense of what they want and how far they’re willing to push and you have to ask the questions, it’s the first game, what’s the risk; what’s the second game risk?” Herdman said. “But at the end of the day, Phonzie is fit, he’s hitting his markers and he’s ready to go. He’s flying in training, enjoying himself and I think Canada are in a position now where we can field our strongest teams. Everyone is coming through well. It’s exciting times for us now, the dark clouds have shifted and we’ll be all 100%”

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Of course, there were risks involved with having Davies on the field with two other games on the cards, which Canada is supposed to have a better shot of winning. But Herdman has not played it safe since taking over the men’s team, which has worked out pretty well for him so far.

“I just think we have to enjoy the process, enjoy the experience, enjoy knowing that people back home are surrounding the TVs, filling bars and restaurants, it’s a great feeling,” Herdman said. “But to be honest, we haven’t seen much outside the training ground and the hotel. It’s a pretty focused group. I can see the World Cup stadium out my bedroom window, the final stadium and I just keep looking at that every day and it’s keeping us going.”

Heading into the game, Canada was not given much of a chance against Belgium, but took the game to the European power and probably should have won it.

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Davies had a golden opportunity to put Canada up from the penalty spot 10 minutes in but was stopped by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid.

Canada had 21 attempts on goal to nine for Belgium, who made good on its one good chance in the game.

“I thought Phonzie was brilliant tonight, I thought he was way more disciplined, showed courage when he needed to,” Herdman said. “There were times before where we played him in positions where he’s over-played at times, but I thought tonight we got it perfect and his response was brilliant, he just allowed himself to find his way into the game with his gifts.”

Postmedia’s soccer expert Derek Van Diest is on the ground in Qatar to cover every kickoff of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Subscribe today and get access to all his coverage.

Check out our sports section for the latest news and analysis. Care for a wager? Head to our sports betting section for news and odds.

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