Belgium worked hard to claim victory in their World Cup opener as they were pushed all the way by an outstanding effort from Canada.
Canada dominated much of this Group F game but wasted in front of goal, especially when Alphonso Davies saw a first-half penalty saved by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Courtois also had to save Alistair Johnston well, but Canada were defeated against the run of play on the stroke of half-time when Michy Batshuayi collected Toby Alderweireld’s long ball and unleashed a powerful left-footed shot past Milan Borjan.
Jonathan David squandered a glorious header chance to equalize Canada and Courtois also saved from Cyle Larin. Canada also felt a sense of injustice after having two presentable penalty appeals ignored in the first half.
Canada continued to advance in the second half, but it was Roberto Martinez’s side that wrapped up the win, despite a performance that made a mockery of their second-place status in the world rankings.
“Canada deserved to be better than us in the way they play,” Martinez told Match of the Day. “It’s a win and we have to play better and grow.
“This tournament is going to allow you to develop and grow as the tournament goes on. If you do that by winning games, that’s an incredible advantage.
“Today we didn’t win with our normal talent and ball quality, but you don’t win the World Cup if you don’t make the other side of the game.”
Sad Belgium takes advantage of its chance
Belgium have Canada’s lackluster finish to thank for avoiding the fate of Argentina and Germany in a World Cup shock.
Martinez chaired Belgium’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’, but this aging team, in the evidence of this performance, may have left their best days behind.
Belgium still have glorious talent in the form of Kevin de Bruyne and a world-class keeper in Courtois, but they looked ragged, jaded and hopelessly vulnerable to the pace and energy of Canada’s attacking play.
The defensive duo of Alderweireld, 33, and Jan Vertonghen, 35, served the country and the clubs remarkably well, but there was an air of desperation about some of their games as Canada, in particular in the first half, led Belgium in all games. . They simply couldn’t keep up with Canada’s speed and intensity, a bad sign for the games to come.
Belgium can clearly do much better than this and have main striker Romelu Lukaku to return up front, but it was a tired effort and coach Martinez, who is under pressure to bring success to this group in charge. since 2016, will just be relieved to come out of this game with three points.
Canada shows it ‘can live on this stage’
Canada were cheered on by thousands of fans inside Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, providing thunderous and colorful support for John Herdman’s side.
And even though their first match of this World Cup ended in defeat, Canada’s fans still gave their team a deserved standing ovation at the final whistle after a performance in which they done except score the goal they so richly deserved.
Canada were fearless from the first whistle, sensing the vulnerability of the Belgian defense and the scrappy nature of Martinez’s side, whose rankings mean they should be among the World Cup favourites.
They had Belgium on the run but wasted their big chance when Davies’ tame penalty was saved by Courtois following Yannick Carrasco’s handball. It was to be a pivotal moment.
Canada went almost the entire run and managed 22 shots on goal but only three were on target, leaving them at the mercy of a quality moment from Belgium, who duly arrived with Batshuayi’s goal.
To their great credit, Canada refused to back down even after that setback, but main striker David, who has made a name for himself at Lille, couldn’t make the most of a lucid opener in second period.
Canada, however, can take pride and hope from this performance. They may have lost all four World Cup games they went without a goal, but there was so much to admire in their performance here.
The Canadians are ranked 39 places below Belgium, but have equaled them in every area except for that decisive strike.
“We had the opportunity to lead the group tonight – that was the mission and we missed it, but I’m proud of the performance,” Herdman said.
“These guys changed, they showed they could live on this stage. They made the fans proud and made them feel like they belonged here and that was important to us. I showed them the stats and their showed that they belong here.”