World Cup 2022: Canada coach Herdman explains viral 'F Croatia' comment

Canadian national men’s soccer team head coach John Herdman was forced to clarify some of his comments after his post-game interview went viral Wednesday as his club fell to Belgium in its opening match of the FIFA World Cup.

Canada outshot its opponent 22-9 but ultimately couldn't find the back of the net. Herdman said he told his players the next goal was to "F Croatia" in its second group stage match Sunday.

Croatian media weren’t thrilled about Herdman’s sentiments, and he offered a further explanation of his comments during his media availability Thursday.

“I mean, you say those things in an impassioned moment trying to inspire your team in a huddle,” Herdman said. “And when you’re asked a question ‘What did you say in that huddle?’ It’s what I said. It’s not massively respectful to Croatian people and the Croatian national team. I understand very well where we’re at on the world stage, but in that moment you enter that next place, you take your team to that next place that we’re here to be fearless and to bring everything we’ve got to that game.

“I mean no disrespect to the Croatian team and Croatian people, but at the end of the day it’s a mindset that Canada is going to have if we’re going to have three points against one of the top teams in the world. And it’s the mindset we took to Belgium. We have to; it’s part of ‘New Canada.’”

It’s somewhat surprising this registered as a controversy. What else is a manager supposed to say to his players following a crushing loss where they were the better side for the vast majority of the contest? Perhaps some interpreted this as Herdman underestimating a Croatia team that finished as runners-up in the 2018 World Cup.

Canada’s pace ought to give an older Croatian roster some pause, although Luka Modric is a world-class midfielder and a weapon that Herdman’s side simply doesn’t have. With Canada sitting in the bottom of Group F, while Croatia played to a scoreless draw against Morocco in its opening match, Sunday’s clash might be one of the best of the tournament and Herdman’s comments have added some ancillary motivation for Modric and company.

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