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When Canada started their 2022 World Cup, they did so by driving the sword into the ground.
Yes, this Canadian team travels with a sword dreamed up by coach John Herdman as a means of embodying this team’s fighting spirit, and the night before Wednesday’s crushing loss to Belgium, they did the same before every game in the final round. World Cup qualifiers and plunged the sword into the center of the pitch where they have to play.
Why do they do this?
The sword is the most memorable of John Herdman’s extraordinary methods of team building and personal inspiration. He has played with other medieval imagery, from shields to symbolize the need to defend with purpose and helmets that can only be seen forward to symbolize sticking to the task at hand.
But it’s a sword that has resonated because, as Herdman said after Canada qualified for the World Cup, it symbolizes “the game we want to play.”
Throughout the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, Canada’s ritual went like this: the team gathered in a circle the night before the game on the side of the stadium they were scheduled to play. A member of the team took the sword, and after a short speech designed to galvanize the group, drove the sword into the field. Herdman wanted the team to believe they would “own their place,” as he said after qualifying, and for most of qualifying, Canada did just that.
Where did the sword come from? What does it say?
Before the final round of qualifying, Toronto-based swordsmith Steve Karakostas received a vague email instructing him to create a sword “as a symbol of brotherhood in a major international quest.”
Karakostas was skeptical that this sword was actually for the Canadian men’s national team, until a qualifying visit to their hotel room convinced him, and he got to work.
The sword is emblazoned with the words ‘Qatar 2022’ and, more importantly, the Latin phrase ‘Nihil timendum est’ or ‘Fear nothing’.
It’s that phrase that describes the team’s all-encompassing, attacking approach and the new courage that has long been missing from the psyche of Canadian men’s soccer.
“It has been our symbol throughout this journey,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio said The Athletic in the mixed zone after losing to Belgium. “Of course we had to bring it out here. It represents the warrior (spirit) of our team. It’s our weapon. It represents our ambition.”
How did they get it through customs?! And who carries it on board?
It’s unclear how the team made it through customs, but they have managed to qualify in other Central American countries.
“It worked,” Osorio said with a smile.
When the sword isn’t being used in pregame talks, it lives in the team hotel meeting room.
What happened in Costa Rica?
Canada suffered only two losses in the final round of World Cup qualification. The second away came to Panama after Canada had already qualified. But the first was in Costa Rica. Canada had a chance to qualify, but as we found out the day after the 1-0 loss, Costa Rican customs wouldn’t let the sword into the country.
A Costa Rican news agency ran a story the next morning that got the world thinking about Herdman’s latest tactic, which boosted the team’s spirit at the time.
Canada’s loss to Costa Rica can be called purely coincidental, as of course they didn’t have a sword with them.
After the loss, Karakosta told the Toronto Star, “I’m not a superstitious person, but after this I might be.”
— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) March 25, 2022
How did they get it to Qatar?
The introduction of the sword into the country was likely not an overnight process. We know Herdman plans carefully, and for the sword to get through customs, he and the other Canadian outfits likely would have started planning soon after qualifying.
We likely haven’t seen the last of the sword in Qatar either.
“It’s in every stadium to symbolize that we’re going to own their field and we’re going to be New Canada,” Herdman said in March.
(Photo: Getty Images)