Canada vs Belgium
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Thibaut Courtois Denies Superior Canada Side and Secures Undeserved Belgium Win

Despite a spirited effort from Canada in their first World Cup appearance since 1986, Belgium won the opener of Group F on Wednesday, 1-0, thanks to three big saves from Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and at least one missed penalty call that should’ve gone in Canada’s favour.

As reported by ESPN, Canada had an early opportunity to take the lead after being awarded a penalty kick inside of 10 minutes, but Alphonso Davies’ effort was blocked by Courtois. Canada has still never scored a World Cup goal. Just before the end of the first half, Belgium’s Michy Batshuayi scored off a long ball.

Here is ESPN’s Julien Laurens with reaction and analysis from Qatar.

Rapid reaction

1. A Cruel But Proud Night for Canada

Football can be cruel sometimes — and the Canadians, in their first World Cup match since 1986, certainly experienced that against Belgium.

Unlike other teams in this tournament, they showed no nerves from the opening whistle. They played attacking football with movement, intensity and passion, pushed by the noise and the support of the 10,000 Canadians inside the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. The game plan of their manager John Herdman was spot-on: no time on the ball for Kevin De Bruyne or Eden Hazard, pressing high and utilising the width of the pitch well.

Stephen Eustaquio (what a player) and the veteran Atiba Hutchinson — at 39 years old, the oldest player in this World Cup and the only member of the squad alive for Canada’s last World Cup appearance in 1986 — bossed the midfield. They created chances and helped generate 2.35 expected goals, or xG, for Canada against just 0.58 xG for their opponent.

Canada were the better team for most of the game, and can be proud of themselves — but they will have regrets. One defensive mistake on Toby Alderweireld’s long ball and they conceded a goal just before the break. As Nelson Mandela used to say: “You never lose. You win or you learn.”

This Canada team should have learned a heck of a lot against Belgium.

2. Courtois, King of Pens and Belgium’s Saviour

Without him, Real Madrid would not have won the Champions League last season and Belgium would not have made a winning start in this World Cup.

Courtois came big again for his country, like so many times in the past, saving Davies’ penalty after 11 minutes and confirming that he is the king of pens. In 2022, he has saved five spot kicks off the nine he faced — that’s an impressive 55.55% ratio of saved penalties, and by far the highest in Europe. Since joining Real Madrid in 2018, he has faced 22 penalties and saved six — but four of those six have happened in 2022.

Courtois made another save a bit later on in the match on an Alistair Johnston shot from a tight angle, and a comfortable one in the second half on a Cyle Larin header that was one of Canada’s best chances of the night.

In what was a very poor performance by Belgium, Courtois was the only light, really. The rest was so poor — the third-placed team of the last World Cup were not a threat going forward, struggled defensively and conceded chances and dangerous situations.

It was very unconvincing and laboured from Belgium — but when you have the current best goalkeeper in the world, it makes your life much easier.

3. An Off Night for Hazard and De Bruyne

We wanted to see Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne take the field for different reasons.

For De Bruyne, the task was to be the conductor of this Belgian side, to take control of the game and be the creative force. Instead, he got pretty much everything wrong. He missed a free Youri Tielemans twice in the first half. Just after the hour mark, he wasted a great counter-attack with a poor ball for Batshuayi, and later blasted his shot from a good position over the bar.

It was a performance very unlike the KDB we’ve come to know at Manchester City, perhaps in large part because the supporting cast around him is not of the same level than the one he has at his club but still: we expect more from him. It is his role to carry this team.

For Hazard, the aim was to show that, even short of match fitness, he could still have an impact on a game like this one. Alas, despite a couple of good touches and turns, the display from the captain was not good enough.

He came off after 60 minutes with no chances created, only 76% of accurate passes and only two successful dribbles. He was fouled four times though, which showed that there is still some life in him, but it is not enough right now.

Manager Roberto Martinez has been very loyal with the 31-year-old who rarely plays at Real Madrid, keeping him in the team at all cost. It is unlikely he will drop him for the Morocco game on Sunday but Hazard, like De Bruyne, will be under pressure to do better than against Canada.

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