When Canada began their 2022 World Cup, they did it by driving a sword into the ground.
Yes, this Canadian team travels with a sword that was dreamed up by coach John Herdman as a means to embody this team’s warrior spirit and the night before their spirited loss against Belgium on Wednesday, they did as they had before every game in the final round of World Cup qualifying and pushed a sword into the center of the field they’re set to play in.
Why do they do it?
The sword is the most memorable of John Herdman’s unorthodox methods of team-building and personal inspiration. He’s played with other medieval imagery, from shields to symbolize the need to defend with purpose and helmets that can only see forward to symbolize sticking to the task at hand.
But it is the sword that has 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 Concacaf World Cup qualifying, Canada’s ritual went as follows: the team would gather in a circle the night before the match at half in the stadium they were set to play in. A member of the team would take the sword, and, after a short speech meant to galvanize the group, would drive the sword into the pitch. Herdman wanted the team to believe they would “own their ground,” as he said after qualifying, and for most of qualifying, Canada did just that.
Where’s the sword from? What does it say?
Ahead of the final round of qualifying, Toronto-based swordsmith Steve Karakostas got 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 for the Canadian men’s national team until a visit to their hotel room during qualifying convinced him, and he got to work.
The sword is emblazoned with the words “Qatar 2022” as well as, more importantly, the Latin phrase “Nihil timendum est” or “Fear nothing”.
It’s that phrase that typifies the team’s all-out, attack-heavy approach and the new bravery that was long missing from the Canadian men’s soccer psyche.
“It’s been our symbol this whole journey,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio told The Athletic in the mixed zone after the loss to Belgium. “Of course, we had to bring it through here. 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 carries it on board?
It’s unclear how the team got it through customs, but they have been successful in getting it into other Central American countries through qualifying.
“It got through,” Osorio said with a smile.
When the sword is not being used in pre-game talks, it lives in the team’s hotel meeting room.
What happened in Costa Rica?
Canada sustained just two losses in the final round of World Cup qualifying. The second came away 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 their 1-0 loss, Costa Rican customs did not allow the sword into the country.
A Costa Rican news agency published a story the next morning, which tipped the world off to Herdman’s latest tactic of galvanizing team spirit at the time.
You can call the loss Canada sustained to Costa Rica purely coincidental 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 this I might be.”
— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) March 25, 2022
How did they get it into Qatar?
Getting the sword into the country was probably not a process that started overnight. We know Herdman is meticulous in his planning and for the sword to get through customs, he and the rest of the Canadian outfit would likely have started planning for this some time soon after qualification.
We probably haven’t seen the last of the sword in Qatar, either.
“It goes into every stadium to symbolize we’ll own their ground and be New Canada,” Herdman said in March.
(Photo: Getty Images)