Thibaut Courtois saved an early penalty and Michy Batshuayi scored the only goal to give Belgium a 1-0 victory over Canada at the World Cup on Wednesday, spoiling the North American team’s return to the tournament after 36 years.
2022 FIFA World Cup © FMM graphics studio
The Canadians have yet to collect a point or even score in four World Cup games, which includes the three games from their 1986 debut.
Still, they outplayed second-ranked Belgium at times at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, with Alphonso Davies — the star of Canada’s team — squandering the best chance when his penalty was blocked by Courtois.
With Eden Hazard ineffective and Kevin De Bruyne’s passes unusually lopsided, Belgium often relied on the long ball from the back and that tactic led to the goal in the 44th minute. Centre-back Toby Alderweireld split the defense with his pass and Batshuayi raced through to steer a left-footed finish into the far corner.
Batshuayi only played because first-choice striker Romelu Lukaku was injured and could potentially miss the entire group stage.
Canada had 21 shots compared to Belgium’s nine, whose well-established team filled with veterans was far from convincing.
There were six players in their 30s in the starting XI, four of whom had accumulated more than 100 caps. Courtois and De Bruyne could reach triple figures at this World Cup, in what looks to be a last hurray for this group of players often described as a “golden generation”.
The absence of Lukaku – a prolific goalscorer and big presence up front – is a major blow for manager Roberto Martinez, with Batshuayi failing to impress apart from his well-taken goals.
In fact, all of the best moves came from a mobile and attacking Canada team in front of their loud, Maple Leaf-waving fans.
Davies stood out with his driving runs from left-back while captain Atiba Hutchinson, at the age of 39, became the oldest outfield player to start a World Cup match.
They had 14 shots in the first half alone, the most by a World Cup team without scoring in 16 years.