‘Next Man Up’ as injuries open up spot on Canada’s World Cup squad for Ajax’s Derek Cornelius

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Published November 15, 2022 at 9:04 am

Opportunity has knocked loud and clear for Ajax centre back Derek Cornelius, who is headed to Qatar for the World Cup after injuries opened up a spot on Canada’s 26-man roster.

Cornelius, who plays for Panetolikos in the Greek Super League (on loan from MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps), has been capped 14 times for his country but head coach John Herdman hasn’t tapped him for duty since he played the full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw on the road in Kingston, Jamaica in a qualifying game in October, 2021.

But when centre backs Scott Kennedy and Doneil Henry went down with injuries recently – Kennedy suffered a shoulder injury with German club SSV Jahn and Henry was hurt during warmups for last week’s friendly against Bahrain – it was next man up for Herdman.

Enter Derek Cornelius.

The former Canada Youth Player of the Year turns 25 during the World Cup and knows an appearance in the global tournament would make a perfect birthday present but getting into the line-up is going to be tricky.

Cornelius isn’t going to start – Steven Vitoria, Alistair Johnston and Kamal Miller have been getting the bulk of the action during qualifying and Richie Lareya and Sam Adekugbe have generally been first off the bench, depending on formations – but, as Pele used to say, the ball is round. Anything can happen.

Cornelius was born in Ajax and played his minor soccer in Ajax and Unionville before moving to Germany at 16, where he was converted from a forward to a centre back. As a pro he has played 28 games in the Serbian Super League, made 37 appearances for Vancouver and now 46 games for Panetolikos.

Canada plays their final tune-up match Thursday against Japan before opening the tournament November 23 versus Belgium, followed by games against Croatia November 27 and Morocco December 1.

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