We’ve been hearing about Belgium’s golden generation for going on two generations. Much of the world is just learning about what might be Canada’s. While it was the former with three points Wednesday night, the latter may have given Croatia and Morocco cause for concern in Group F.
The first 15 minutes – and much of the first half – belonged to Canada, amassing 1.43 xG in that opening spell alone. That’s more than Belgium conceded combined in all eight of the first halves in their qualifying matches (1.42), but Canada weren’t able to convert with Alphonso Davies’s 10th-minute penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois. It was the first on record saved at a World Cup by a Belgian keeper.
There was also the matter of another seemingly clear penalty going uncalled in the 13th minute on the pitch – and for some reason entirely unreviewed by VAR – after what seemed to be some confusion with offside following a clear foul.
Just after the half-hour mark, Jonathan David missed a clear chance to pass on a shot and lay it off to Tajon Buchanan, but the Lille striker fired into a defender with his Brugge-based teammate pleading on his right as momentum again built for Canada:
Belgium’s 56.2% first-half possession was inconsequential at best with lateral moves leading to hopeful balls over the top and amounting to nothing – until it did.
That was Toby Alderweireld’s ball up the middle and into the box to Michy Batshuayi to finish near the penalty spot for the match’s only goal:
So the first half ended 1-0 to Belgium despite Canada outshooting them 14-4 with a 2.15-0.52 xG advantage, and from there Roberto Martinez changed to five at the back with two half-time subs.
Canada’s best chance to equalise in the second half came in the 80th minute with Cyle Larin’s header saved by Courtois after a beautiful ball into the box from Alistair Johnston. Johnston created three chances in the match along with Davies, while Richie Laryea managed four and three others had two, so the chances were there but the finishing was not with just three of their 21 shots finding the target:
As the match wore on, it became an issue of finishing moves all together after working the ball into the box, but there were encouraging signs nonetheless.
Canada remain winless at the World Cup, now through four matches with this being their first in 36 years. But while CONCACAF was embarrassed earlier in the day with Costa Rica’s 7-0 defeat to Spain, that was hardly the case for John Herdman’s side.
As for Martinez’s side, the group stage remains their thing – at least in terms of results even if the impressive opening showing they were after didn’t quite happen. Since losing their final group game in 1994 to Saudi Arabia, Belgium are unbeaten in all 13 of their World Cup group stage games. They’ve won each of their last eight group matches to match Brazil’s record (who’ve done it twice: 1986-1994 and 2002-2010).
Canada are the only Group F team without a point, but their task isn’t insurmountable with an 18% chance of progressing after Morocco and Croatia shared a deeply unimpressive goalless draw earlier on Wednesday.