Belgium Versus Canada: A Loss to be Proud Of

CanMNT's Atiba Hutchinson Battles for the Ball with Belgium's Eden Hazard in the Canada Versus Belgium Game

ANALYSIS: If you subscribe to the multiverse theory, in a close parallel universe, Canada would currently be celebrating a historic win versus the second-ranked in the world Belgium. Instead, in our reality, Canada versus Belgium ended in defeat for Les Rouges, in their World Cup 2022 opener.

Belgium won the game 1-0 after a late first-half goal from Michy Batshuayi, and just narrowly kept the lead throughout the game. However, you could be forgiven for thinking that Belgium was probably lucky that the score remained like that come full-time. Tireless, fearless, and dynamic; Canada proved to the world that it belonged at the World Cup with that incredible performance in MD-1 of Group F.

Belgium Versus Canada: A Loss to be Proud Of

Relentless From the Off…

Many conversations were had about what kind of performance Canada was going to have in this World Cup, especially with the tough group that was drawn for them. Well, they were determined to set the record straight the minute that the game kicked-off

Canada looked lively in the opening 15 minutes. Alistair Johnston and Tajon Buchanan were nuisances down the right, constantly bringing it to the opposing Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Jan Vertonghen. Alphonso Davies in the first half was majestic; constantly cutting in from the wing to run into space, leaving Belgium defenders in his wake,  and opening up the play so that Canada could attack. Richie Laryea was arguably Canada’s best player, sprinting back and forth on the right and springing attacks from his wing. All that was missing was that attacking edge, that clinical nature that is required at the highest level.

…But Lacking Final Product

It was a tough day in front of the goal for Canada. Davies had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring and score Canada’s first-ever World Cup goal with a penalty in the 11-minute, but his attempt was ultimately tame and was well-met by Thibaut Courtois. Buchanan skyed what looked like to be a tap-in over the bar in first-half added time, in an attempt that looked harder to miss than score. Against a team like Belgium, those chances come at a premium, and Canada lacked that finishing touch to get a well-deserved equalizer.

Nevertheless, Canada continued to attack and provide problems for Belgium, opting to push a high press and try to win the ball back high so that they could counter at speed with their pacy attackers. Stephen Eustáquio and Atiba Hutchinson were crucial for this, and were relentless in the middle, even if at times they over-committed and left the midfield open. But even then, Kamal Miller and Steven Vitória were there to clean up shop and stop Belgium from punishing Canada on the counters.

In the end, it was a simple long ball over the top, seemingly Canada’s Achilles heel, that cost them the game. Batshuayi was fed in behind Canada’s defence by the experienced Toby Alderweireld and only needed that one opportunity to open the scoring for Belgium.

Canada is Better Physically, Worse Psychologically Versus Belgium

While Canada was the more physical team, constantly fighting for second balls and flying into tackles to win the ball in Belgium’s half, it was ultimately the psychological battle that Canada lost in that game.

With the pressure of attending a World Cup for the first time in 36 years, and of scoring Canada’s first-ever goal at a World Cup, Canada’s attackers looked nervy in the final half. You could see it in Davies’ attempted penalty kick: his face seemed to be thinking about the occasion rather than the technique of the shot. It would have been a fairy-tale story had Davies, Canada’s golden boy, scored that, but perhaps it was that headline that weighed on his mind as he was running to take the penalty.

It wasn’t just Davies. Many players like Laryea, Buchanan, Jonathan David, and even Junior Hoilett opted at times to go for a shot instead of a better play in passing it or laying it off. While precise and efficient in the build-up, it seemed like once in the box, everyone wanted to be the hero and write their names in the history books. But this resulted in the players being just a fraction of a second late in their decision-making in front of the net. And with a backline as experienced as Belgium’s, a half-second hesitation is a half-second too much.

For all the good that Canada did throughout the game, it was just the pressure of the nation and the potential of making history that perhaps became their biggest obstacle.

Canada Proving They Belong

Regardless of the result, Canada proved to everyone watching that it belonged on the world’s biggest stage. Canada outshot Belgium 22 to nine, but only got three on target, matching Belgium. 18 of those shots were in the box, compared to Belgium’s six in Canada’s.

They had two more big chances (three) than Belgium (one), and with an xG of 2.61 to Belgium’s 0.76, the match proved to be an important but cruel lesson to the Boys in Red about finishing your chances. However, both the players, the coaches, and the fans can be proud of the performance, because it firmly stamped Canada as a force to be reckoned with at this World Cup. Belgium was lethargic compared to Canada, for large stretches of the game. You could see that every player played their heart out, and left everything on the field. Gone are the days of 8-0 drubbings versus Honduras. Canada demonstrated that they are, and will continue to be, a soccer nation.

Onto the Next One for Canada

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READ MORE: The 2022 CanMNT World Cup Preview: Looking to Make History

Next up is Croatia, who themselves drew 0-0 versus Morocco earlier in the day. That game will kick off at 11:0o AM ET and it will be televised nationally live on TSN and CTV. It will also be televised live on RDS in Quebec.

Canada will look to rectify the mistakes made in this game and get over that last mental hurdle of scoring their first-ever World Cup goal. Should Canada score early in that game, don’t be surprised to see the kick-on and go far in their group, and potentially in the latter stages of this competition. They have shown that they can play with the FIFA World Cup teams, not just with Belgium, but also when the CanMNT won against Japan in a friendly earlier this month.