When Canada started their 2022 World Cup, they did it by plunging a sword into the ground.
Yes, this Canadian team travels with a sword that was devised by coach John Herdman as a means of embodying the team’s martial spirit and the night before their vigorous defeat by Belgium on Wednesday they did the same as before every game in the final round world Cup qualification and plunged the sword into the center of the field where they were supposed to play.
Why do they do it?
The sword is the most memorable of John Herdman’s unorthodox team-building and personal inspiration methods. He played with other medieval imagery, from shields that symbolize the need to defend with purpose, to helmets that can only look forward to symbolize the accomplishment of a given task.
But it was the sword that resonated because, as Herdman said after Canada qualified for the World Cup, it represents “the swagger we want to play with.”
Throughout the final round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualification, Canada’s ritual proceeded as follows: the night before the match, the teams gathered in a circle in the half of the stadium where they were supposed to play. A member of the team took the sword, and after a short speech intended to encourage the group, plunged the sword into the field. Herdman wanted the team to believe that they “own their territory”, 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 round of qualification, Toronto swordmaster Steve Karakostas received a vague email instructing him to create the sword “as a symbol of brotherhood in an important international quest.”
Karakostas was skeptical that this sword was actually intended for the Canadian men’s team until a visit to their hotel room during qualifying convinced him and he set to work.
The sword is adorned with the words “Qatar 2022” and, more importantly, the Latin phrase “Nihil timendum est” or “Fear nothing”.
This phrase epitomizes the team’s all-out, attacking approach and a new courage that has long been lacking in the Canadian football mentality.
“It was our symbol all the way,” said the midfielder. Jonathan Osorio said Athletic in the mixed zone after losing to Belgium. “Of course we had to spend it here. It symbolizes the warrior (spirit) of our team. This is our weapon. He represents our ambitions.”
How did they get through customs? And who’s bringing him on board?
It’s unclear how the team got through customs, but they managed to get it to other Central American countries through qualifications.
“It’s gone,” Osorio said with a smile.
When not in use in pre-game negotiations, the sword lives in the team’s conference room at the hotel.
What happened in Costa Rica?
Canada suffered just two defeats in the final round of World Cup qualifiers. The second left for Panama after Canada had already qualified. But the first came to Costa Rica. Canada had a chance to qualify, but as we learned the day after the 1-0 defeat, Costa Rica customs did not allow the sword to enter the country.
The next morning, the Costa Rican news agency published an article that told the world about Herdman’s latest tactic at the time to stimulate team spirit.
You can call the loss that Canada suffered in Costa Rica purely accidental, because they certainly didn’t have a sword with them.
After the loss, Karakostas told the Toronto Star, “I’m not a superstitious person, but after this I could be.”
— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) March 25, 2022
How did they get to Qatar?
The importation of the sword into the country most likely did not begin overnight. We know Herdman is meticulous in his planning, and in order for the sword to get through customs, he and the rest of the Canadian team probably started planning it some time shortly after qualifying.
We probably didn’t see the last sword in Qatar either.
“He goes to every stadium to symbolize that we will own their stadium and be the New Canada,” Herdman said in March.
(Photo: Getty Images)