(Reuters) - Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies is the stand-out talent in a Canada squad that takes its first steps on the long road to the 2022 Qatar World Cup this week with CONCACAF region qualifying games against Bermuda and Cayman Islands.
Assembling a team during the COVID-19 pandemic may have proven a bigger challenge than the one 73rd-ranked Canada will face on the pitch on Thursday when they play 169th-ranked Bermuda and on Sunday against 193rd-ranked Cayman Islands.
Both matches will be played in empty stadiums in Florida due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and health and safety protocols in Canada.
In securing the services of Davies and other European-based players, head coach John Herdman said Soccer Canada had to work through a maze of red tape, addressing the concerns of various countries, federations and clubs.
"This has been an interesting period of time for anyone in the sport but we have got all the players we need for this particular game," Herdman said during a media conference call.
"The reality is with Canada Soccer it has been a real team effort, to understand quarantine rules to even bring players into the USA."
To jump start the campaign Canada will look to a mix of experience and youth led by Davies, who will be back in the national team shirt for the first time since helping Bayern Munich to the Champions League and Bundesliga titles last season.
Seven players will have an opportunity to earn their first cap while at the other end of the spectrum, Besiktas midfielder Atiba Hutchinson has made 84 international appearances.
The opening round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying will see 30 countries divided into six groups of five with only the winner of each advancing.
Joining Canada, Bermuda and Cayman Islands in Group B are Aruba and Suriname.
The winner of Group B will face the Group E winner in a two-legged second round tie on June 12 and 15.
The three second-round winners move to the final round where they join the United States, Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Honduras in the fight for three World Cup spots. The fourth-placed team moves into an inter-confederation playoff.
"The reality check now every game is a difference maker," said Herdman. "It is an opportunity for this group of men to do something special for their country that hasn’t been done for a long time."
Canada has only once before, in 1986, qualified for a World Cup.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)