The game: 1-0
After the fall of Argentina against Saudi Arabia (1-2) and that of Germany against Japan (1-2), Belgium seriously trembled in turn this Wednesday, but ended up beating with experience, and a bit of luck, an attractive and uninhibited selection of Canada (1-0). Thibaut Courtois fended off an Alphonso Davies penalty, Zambian Janny Sikazwe’s refereeing didn’t really help the Canadians, and the Red Devils’ sharpness made the difference.
A follower of tactical shots, Canadian coach John Herdman composed a 3-4-3, with Alphonso Davies and Richie Laryea in the role of pistons, which considerably destabilized Roberto Martinez’s team. If the latter had the first opportunity, by Michy Batshuayi (1st), Belgium then suffered the Canadian assaults.
On a half-volley from Tajon Buchanan the wisp (see below), Yannick Carrasco made a handball in the box to give Canada the opportunity to score their first World Cup goal, after the zero point in 1986 But the immense Thibaut Courtois intervened in front of Alphonso Davies (10th). Canada could have obtained two additional penalties, but Mr. Sikazwe saw an imaginary offside on the first (14th) before considering that the yet obvious contact between Axel Witsel and Richie Laryea was legal (38th).
Yet taken by the throat by the pressure and the numerous overruns of the Canucks, Belgium finally opened the scoring at the best moment, when Michy Batshuayi adjusted Milan Borjan after having benefited from a long opening from Toby Alderweireld and a very poor Canadian alignment (44th). His 27th achievement with the Red Devils. The entries of Amadou Onana and Thomas Meunier on returning from the locker room, then that of Leandro Trossard in place of a reassuring but average Eden Hazard (62nd) did not really boost the team from the flat country.
But Canada, despite its overall domination (2.61 expected goals against 0.76 for the Belgians), did not manage to snatch the equalizer, lowering the foot physically at the end of the game. Belgium will have to show another face to beat Morocco on Sunday (2 p.m.), while Canada proved that they had a card to play against Croatia and then Morocco.
The fact: Courtois saves the furniture
While this World Cup will be the last for many Belgian players, Thibaut Courtois has been the most brilliant member of the golden generation. The Real Madrid goalkeeper was instrumental in repelling the Canadian assaults in the first period. He relaxed perfectly on his right to stop Alphonso Davies’ penalty, becoming the first Belgian goalkeeper to succeed in performing in the World Cup (10th). Serene in his outings, he then made a major two-fist save on a dry strike from Alistair Johnston (30th), then offered himself a stop for the photo on a header from Cyle Larin (80th).
The player: Buchanan tried everything
While Canada multiplied attempts (22 shots to 9), Tajon Buchanan was involved in most of them. Well known in Belgium thanks to his performances under the colors of Bruges, the 22-year-old winger was twirling on the right side, then when he passed to the left on the hour mark. His half-volley blocked by the arm of Yannick Carrasco (8th) resulted in the penalty awarded by VAR, and he could have obtained another soon after, when he suffered a charge from Jan Vertonghen (14th).
His delivery to Jonathan David could also have hit the mark (31st), and he missed the equalizer by tackling a cross from Richie Laryea out of bounds (45th + 2). His demonstration continued in the second half, with in particular a delicious blow from the sombrero (57th), until his exit, exhausted (81st). Remarkable debut in the World Cup, even if he must progress in the last gesture.