Even though Canada created most of the scoring opportunities, their first game in the men’s World Cup since 1986 ended in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belgium, one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Michy Batshuayi latched onto Toby Alderweireld’s long ball to score the only goal of the game in the 44th minute after Canada had been much the better side during the first half.
John Herdman’s team started the brighter of the two and were presented with a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the 10th minute when the referee awarded a penalty for a handball following a VAR check. However, Alphonso Davies' tame effort was saved by Thibaut Courtois.
Belgium struggled throughout the match and never looked comfortable holding onto the one-goal lead, but Canada’s unfortunate showing in front of goal allowed them to sneak away with three points and the top spot in Group F going into the second round of games.
Going into their second game, Canada will be looking to the positives of this performance with a focus on improving in front of goal.
Despite winning the game, Belgium will be expected to make improvements for their upcoming clash with Morocco after this disjointed display.
Expected Goals (xG): Belgium 0.76, Canada 2.45
These numbers are not too surprising, considering Canada managed more than twice the number of shots Belgium did, including that early first-half penalty. However, just five of their 22 shots hit the target, and that is the story of how Canada’s night in front of goal unfolded.
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Man of the Match: Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
Considered by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world, Courtois was a calming presence in the Belgium goal behind an often-exposed backline. His early penalty save was key, and he dealt with Canada’s four other shots on target with relative ease.
Best Passer: Stephen Eustaquio, Canada
The Canadian midfielder completed 87.5% of his 64 pass attempts. He was the most probing on the ball for either team, with a match-high 11 line-breaking pass attempts, nine of which were completed to teammates — both of those numbers more than double the next best for Canada.
Eustaquio’s accuracy and passing through the Belgian lines was key to Canada’s attacking performance.
Best Challenger: Axel Witsel, Belgium
Belgium’s defending often wasn’t at the level to be expected, given the experienced names in the backline, but Witsel stood out in his role as the deep-lying midfielder. The Atlético Madrid man won two-thirds of his aerial duels and three-quarters of the 50-50s he was involved in.
Belgium’s central defensive trio of Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Leander Dendoncker will certainly be looking to improve in terms of challenge success in the coming games.
Thibaut Courtois came out of a poor Belgium performance with his head held high, making the key penalty save early in the game and remaining composed in the face of continued Canadian attacks. His opposite number, Milan Borjan, had a quieter game, facing three shots on target. However, he will certainly feel he could have done better with the goal conceded to Batshuayi.