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When Canada started their 2022 World Cup, they did so by driving a sword into the ground.
Yes, this Canada side travel with a sword invented by coach John Herdman to embody that side’s warrior spirit, and on the night before their spirited defeat by Belgium on Wednesday, they did as they do before every game in the World Cup finals -Qualification and thrust a sword into the middle of the field where they will play.
Why are they doing it?
The sword is the most memorable of John Herdman’s unorthodox methods of team building and personal inspiration. He has played with other medieval symbols, from shields symbolizing the need to single-mindedly defend oneself, and helmets, which can only see ahead, to symbolize sticking to the task at hand.
But it’s the sword that has resonated because, as Herdman said after Canada qualified for the World Cup, it represents “the pride we want to play with”.
During the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, Canada’s ritual was as follows: the team gathered in a circle around half of the stadium where they were to play the night before the game. A member of the team took the sword, and after a short speech intended to rouse the group, he would drive 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 is the sword from? what does it say
Ahead of the final qualifying round, Toronto-based swordsmith Steve Karakostas received a vague email commissioning him to create a sword “as a symbol of brotherhood on a significant international quest.”
Karakostas was skeptical that this sword was actually intended for the Canada men’s national team until a visit to their hotel room during qualification convinced him and set to work.
The words “Qatar 2022” and above all the Latin sentence “Nihil timendum est” or “Fear nothing” are emblazoned on the sword.
It’s that phrase that encapsulates the team’s uncompromising, attacking approach and renewed bravado long lacking in the Canadian men’s soccer psyche.
“He’s been our symbol throughout this journey,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio the athlete in the mixed zone after losing to Belgium. “Of course we had to get through this. It symbolizes the warrior (spirit) of our team. It’s our weapon. It represents our ambition.”
How did they get it through customs?! And who wears it on board?
It’s unclear how the team made it through customs, but they had managed to get it to other Central American countries through qualification.
“It came through,” Osorio said with a smile.
When the sword is not being used in pre-game conversations, it lives in the team’s briefing room.
What happened in Costa Rica?
Canada suffered just two defeats in the final round of World Cup qualifying. The second came to Panama after Canada had already qualified. But the first came in Costa Rica. Canada had a chance to qualify, but as we learned the day after the 1-0 loss, Costa Rica’s customs would not let the sword in.
A Costa Rican news outlet ran a story the next morning that alerted the world to Herdman’s latest tactic to mobilize the team spirit of the time.
You can call the loss Canada suffered to Costa Rica pure coincidence because they didn’t have the sword with them, sure.
After the loss, Karakostas told the Toronto Star, “I’m not a superstitious man, but after that I might be.”
— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) March 25, 2022
How did they get it to Qatar?
Bringing the sword into the country was probably not a process that started overnight. We know Herdman is meticulous about his planning and for the sword to get through customs, he and the rest of the Canadian team would probably have started planning shortly after qualifying.
We probably didn’t see the last sword in Qatar either.
“It goes into every stadium to symbolize that we own their territory and we’re going to be New Canada,” Herdman said in March.
(Photo: Getty Images)