Belgium 1 – 0 Canada
(Group F, Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, 23/11/2022)
Romelu Lukaku was out with a muscle injury and watched the game from the stands.
The starting XI for Belgium (FIFA ranking: 2) had four former Chelsea players namely Michy Batshuayi, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard alongside several familiar faces from the Premier League. The rest of the squad also included Premier league players, e.g., Trossard and Faes.
Hazard played magnificently throughout his time at Chelsea but since his transfer to Real Madrid (for whom he has made only a single La Liga start this season), multiple injuries have hampered his progress. Courtois and De Bruyne are both players that the Club would have to have kept for longer. Courtois is a recent winner of the Lev Yashin trophy for the word’s best goalkeeper; De Bruyne is regarded by many as the world’s best midfielder. It is probably fair to say that Batshuayi’s career stuttered during his time at Stamford Bridge.
Belgium’s golden generation narrowly lost to France, the eventual winners, in 2018 semi-final, but won the third-place play-off match to become Belgium’s most successful national squad. Six of the current squad start the tournament with more than 100 caps (Alderweireld and Vertonghen have almost 270 between them) with the prospect that Courtois and De Bruyne will also reach that mark if Belgium progress deep into the tournament. For some of the more experienced players, at least, Qatar 2022 may represent a final opportunity to excel on the international stage.
Canada (FIFA ranking: 41) qualified top of the CONCACAF table having beaten both the USA and Mexico (each ranked higher than the Canadians). They had also recently beaten Japan in a pre-tournament friendly. Members of their squad will be a little less familiar. Reading’s Junior Hoilett and Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies will probably be the most well-known. Lille’s Jonathon David is one of Europe’s most sought-after young strikers. At 39, Atiba Hutchinson, nicknamed ‘The Octopus, is the second oldest player to appear in the World Cup, behind only Roger Miller (who some may remember from Italia ’90).
Canada have only one previous World Cup appearance. In 1986 they exited at the group stage with neither a goal scored, nor a point won.
The teams have met only once before with the Belgians gaining a 2-0 victory in a 1989 friendly. Belgium started this game as firm favourites.
From the outset, difference between the teams’ FIFA rankings was not apparent. The Canadians started as promisingly as much as the Belgians started poorly. They were energetic, playing with great confidence and invention while the Belgians looked nervous and error prone.
After only a minute, the first effort actually came from Belgium. Johnston hit pass straight to Batshuayi who was unmarked midway inside the Canadian half. He advanced towards the penalty area before shooting from outside the box. Borjan was not troubled and made a comfortable save. Then Eustaquio and David both had efforts blocked before Canada, in the eighth minute, were presented with the perfect opportunity to go in front.
Canada won a corner on the right. Hoilett’s out-swinging kick reached Buchanan near the far post. His attempt to control it saw the ball pop up slightly, allowing him to hit the ball on the turn. The shot was on target but hit Carrasco, the ball looping up into the arms of Courtois. Buchanan immediately claimed a penalty, but the referee appeared to let play continue. VAR directed him to the monitor to review the incident. That resulted in the award of a penalty plus a yellow card for Carrasco. Davies stepped up to take the spot kick. He struck the ball low to Courtois’ right but too close the keeper. Courtois’ save went straight back to Davies, the ball deflecting up off him into the path of David who put the ball well over the bar.
Soon after, in the twelfth minute, Laryea shot wide. A minute later, a clearance from Courtois went straight to Hutchinson. He got the ball back via Eustaquio and David feeding Hoilett out on the left. Hoilett’s far post cross looked to be going out until Buchanan, just inside the goal line, headed it back to David. David’s initial shot was blocked with the intended clearance going to Hazard on the edge of the box. He attempted to pass the ball back intending to find Vertonghen. The pass was misdirected and reached Buchanan who Vertonghen looked to have fouled. The ball broke back to David whose shot was saved by Courtois. The Canadians thought they had a good shout for a penalty, but the decision wasn’t given. After heading the ball back, Buchanan had stepped out of play before coming back onto the pitch and it seemed that an off-side decision had mistakenly been made. VAR ruled that Vertonghen had got a little of the ball, so no foul.
Ten minutes later a long ball down the left from Alderweireld found Hazard running against Johnston. A great touch allowed Hazard to beat the defender, advance into the box and cut the ball back to Tielemans on the edge of the area. He turned and shifted the ball to the right. It by-passed De Bruyne to reach Batshuayi in space at the far post. After a poor first touch, he shot over under Miller’s challenge. In fact, Miller had recovered enough to make the block and Belgium won their first corner of the game. The corner was a poor one, easily headed away.
After another eleven minutes De Bruyne, out on the left, hit a long cross to the far post. Running in, Batshuayi didn’t really make good contact with the ball and Borjan was able to come out to collect the ball.
A few minutes later, Laryea ran into the right side of the box and past Witsel. Laryea went down, but a penalty wasn’t given. Witsel made contact without touching the ball, but VAR did not overturn the on-field decision.
Just before half time, and totally against the run of play, Belgium took the lead. From well inside his own half, Alderweireld launched a long ball straight down the middle towards Batshuayi who was running between Miller and Vitoria. Vitoria failed to cut the ball out and neither he nor Miller could catch Batshuayi whose left foot shot, from about 10 yards, found the right-hand corner of the net.
In the five added minutes that followed, the Canadians had two more efforts on goal. First, from the right, Laryea put a good ball across the box which found Buchanan sliding in to put the ball over the bar. Then, a corner from the right was cleared to Eustaquio whose shot from the edge of the area was blocked.
Canada had dominated the first half and were unfortunate to be behind. Canada’s movement in the Belgian half had been excellent. Constantly pressing and making runs in behind the ageing Belgian defence, which looked a little frail, the Canadians lacked only a bit of quality in front of goal. David, Laryea, Hoilett and Hutchinson all missed the target or had efforts blocked. Apart from De Bruyne, who wasn’t at his best, the Belgian midfielders looked lacklustre and tired (Witsel in particular). Hazard had a few good moments where he showed touches of quality but looked have lost some of his pace (or possibly he wasn’t fully fit). Courtois’ saves had kept Belgium in the game. Batshuayi managed only a few touches though one, of course was telling.
The second half followed much the same pattern as the first although the Canadians’ intensity dropped slightly.
Buchanan shot way over the bar and Laryea missed wide before he blocked an effort from Batshuayi.
Canada still continued to create chances. First, David’s shot on the turn was blocked, then Larin (on for Hoilett) saw his header (from Johnston’s fine cross) saved by Courtois.
As the Canadians tired, Belgium came into the game a little more. In the last five minutes of normal time, Dendonker missed with a header and De Bruyne’s surging run through the Canadian half ended with his shot, from about 20 yards out, flying high and wide. Larin then met a cross from the left made by Adekugbe (on for Laryea). Larin’s header was off target.
In the additional five minutes, a shot by Meunier (on for Carrasco) was blocked by Vitoria, De Bruyne’s low shot (following a short corner to, and a return pass from, substitute Trossard) was easily saved by Borjan and Larin’s header (from Johnston’s corner) looped up to be taken by Courtois.
Unlucky for Canada, though they didn’t really look like scoring. On the balance of play, they deserved to give us another surprise, rather than the expected, result. Fortunate to hang on, Belgium’s win took them to the top of the group and equalled Brazil’s record of eight straight World Cup group stage victories.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie