Canada Hopeful Going Into Sunday's Croatia Game

Canada Hopeful Going Into Sunday's Croatia Game
© USA Today

For Craig Forrest, the former Canadian national soccer team goalkeeper, now soccer television broadcaster, Canada's recent re-introduction onto the World Cup stage brought up some deep emotions. 

Forrest played for 17 years in England and had a storied career playing for Canada’s senior national team, with 56 caps, the most ever for a Canadian goalkeeper, led by Canada winning the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup. 

There he was named tournament MVP and Most Valuable Goalkeeper for allowing just three goals and stopping two penalties over Canada’s five games. It was one of the great moments in Canadian soccer history.

First Canada Appearance in Decades

Wednesday’s Canada-Belgium game was the first time Canada has been in the World Cup since 1986 in Mexico. 

For Canadian players who have been around long enough to remember that, the game was particularly special. 

The Canadian squad lost 1-0, but observers like Forrest were impressed in a game where the Canadians outplayed the Belgians, a team ranked second in the world, outshooting them, 14 directed at the goalkeeper in the first half, 22 overall. The Red Devils had nine directed at the Canadian goal. 

‘Such a Different Beast’

Forrest took in the game with a few hundred crazed Canadian soccer fans at a NorthStar Bets “Countdown Canada” World Cup event held at the Rec Room in downtown Toronto. He’ll be back there Sunday at 11 a.m. ET for their second Group F game against Croatia.

“What an amazing moment,” he said at halftime. “I have been in touch with some of the 1986 guys, and they are just so proud. Not everyone remembers 1986. There’s such as big gap. But I’ve got buddies who get together for basketball and hockey tournaments, and they’re watching this, and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is such a different beast.’”

On the world’s biggest soccer stage, the Canadians proved they belong. 

Going into the first game this week, sportsbooks were reporting a lot of action on Canada, despite Belgium being favoured. Betting emotions at play, clearly?

“From my point of view, where’s my heart?” Forrest said. “You look at Canada on paper, but we don’t play on paper. Obviously, Canada is incredibly talented with guys playing for some of the best clubs in the world. Defensively we have some challenges, and that’s why John has them playing that way. He wants to keep the ball as long as he can in their end. But I got even more optimistic watching them today. I didn’t expect them to dominate like they did in that first half. (Alphonso) Davies, (Jonathan) David, they play like that up front, that gives the other guys confidence, to  squeeze up behind them to raise their abilities as well. And John is as good as it gets when it comes to galvanizing players. He’s the best I have seen with that.”

Where the Bets Are Going

Betting stats from Thursday mirrored the optimism, as well. 

At NorthStar, national pride was on display, as the Canada-Belgium game was the biggest World Cup event so far with two times turnover than the next best event, with 50% of NorthStar Bets’ player goal props on Davies to score. (He came close, missing on a penalty kick.) 

At the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s Proline, the game was predictably the highest overall wagered event of the day of any sport, and up to that point was the highest wagered game of the World Cup, with more volume than the other three games combined. The betting unfolded with 35% on Belgium, 19% on a draw and 46% on Canada. 

The Anytime Goal Scorer market saw the most money on Davies (31%, with the lone scorer for Belgium, Michy Batshuayi, getting 6% of all bets).

Over at DraftKings, Canada-Belgium was the third-most bet game by handle so far – followed by U.S.-Wales and Argentina-Saudi Arabia. Belgium was -155 to win the match and was +1600 to win the tournament before the match.

And at FanDuel, 40% of total bets were on Canada to win the game (Win-Draw-Win market), and 50% of these bets on Canada were placed while the game was in play (43% on Belgium, 17% on the draw). 

Davies was the fourth most-popular player among bettors to score the first goal, and he was the second most-popular player to score any time. (Most popular in both markets was Kevin De Bruyne.)

Croatia Has the Edge Sunday

So, Sunday against Croatia? Canada has to go for the three points. Las Vegas moneyline odds have Canada +350, Croatia -136.

On Friday, World Cup futures on PointsBet had Canada +2000 to win Group F. 

One player bettors should focus on for Croatia is Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan. 

“His confidence is pretty good right now,” Forrest said during the Canada-Belgium game. “Goalkeepers go through different things, like pitchers in baseball, three-point shooters in basketball. Confidence goes up and down. I wouldn’t say it’s the highest it’s been, watching him play in club football. But it’s pretty good. 

"That’s what I go by, watching them in club football, seeing where they are going into the tournament. He has a strong character. You have to have that in the Serbia league, because it’s a really tough league.”

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