Michy Batshuayi guided Belgium to a convincing 1-0 win over Canada in the opening match of their 2022 World Cup.
Playing in just their second World Cup final, Canada missed a golden opportunity to take an early lead when Alphonso Davies had a penalty saved.
Belgium striker Batshuayi took full advantage just before half-time when he fired in the game’s only goal, securing the Red Devils a narrow Group F win in Qatar.
Canada lost all three of their games without scoring in their only other World Cup finals appearance in 1986, and their wait for a first point and first goal continues in their next game against Croatia on Sunday.
Big moments in the game…
- 10 mins: Canada win a penalty but Thibaut Courtois saves from Alphonso Davies.
- 44 mins: Michy Batshuayi takes advantage of poor Canada defending to give Belgium the lead.
Canada full of verve, but Belgium sneak victory
Canada had a glorious chance to take the lead on 10 minutes after a Taylor Buchanan strike hit the arm of Yannick Carrasco in the box, but Davies saw his tame effort saved by Thibaut Courtois.
The North American side continued their dominance in the first half, with an aging Belgian backline creaking time and again in the face of waves of attacks, but they somehow found themselves behind after 44 minutes.
A Toby Alderweireld surge was not dealt with by the Canada defense and Batshuayi took full advantage as he brought the ball down into the box with one touch before emphatically lashing his second into the net.
It spoke volumes for Belgium’s first-half performance that, despite taking the lead, Roberto Martinez still felt the need to make two changes at half-time, bringing on Amadou Onana and Thomas Meunier for Youri Tielemans and Carrasco.
The wrestlers helped stem some of the Canada flood as Belgium saw off an upset opening win. They face Morocco next, with a win likely to see them through to the last 16.
Martinez: Canada was better than us
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez:
“It was such a difficult game. Canada were better than us in what we wanted to do. They have a lot of pace and directness and to be fair we had to show a different side of our game.
“I’m delighted because we won the game through grit and experience and the quality of our goalkeeper who can keep you in a game with a penalty save. The win for me is more important than when you play well.
“Canada deserved to be better than us in the way they approached their performance. But in the end the result reflects what we had to do and the way we defended for each other and we took our chances.
“You’ve seen a lot of top teams lose games and in this tournament you develop and grow as they go in. If you do that by winning games it’s an incredible advantage. We didn’t play well, that’s for sure, but we has to be. realistic and appreciates the win. When a team can win a game without playing well, it’s a lot to build on.”
Herdman proud, but frustrated
Canada CEO John Herdman:
“I’m proud of the performance but you have to take three points in your first game. We had an opportunity tonight to go top of the group, that was the mission and we missed it.
“Like I said these boys put in a shift, they showed they can live on this stage and they made the fans proud. They feel they can belong here, that was the message to us.
“We will go against Croatia, that is our mission now. I told them I lost my first match in London 2012 [in charge of Canada’s women] and we won a medal. This is how we react now. With that belief, and if we keep the brotherhood close, we have a chance.”
Player of the match – Thibaut Courtois
The save from Davies’ early penalty proved to be the defining moment for Belgium and as he remained calm and composed behind Belgium’s struggling defence, Courtois proved why he is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.
What the result means
Belgium top Group F after the opening match, ahead of Croatia and Morocco who played out a goalless draw earlier in the day.
What else happened in the WC on Wednesday?
There was a massive shock in Group E when two late goals saw Japan come from behind to strike Germany 2-1, while Spain took control of the group after pounding Costa Rica 7-0.