He made flashy Belgium and its golden generation look aged for the possible reason that flashy Belgium and its golden generation might be aging. The presence of a new opponent filled with unrepentant fighters has made Belgium look as if they were staying in the fumes of the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the last two World Cups. At moments it almost seemed to creak audibly in the cool, clear night, though 40,432 at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium perhaps drowned out the sound. Manchester City’s Belgian playmaker, 31-year-old Kevin De Bruyne, sounded grim when he later said: ‘No, I don’t think I played a great game. No, I don’t know why I have the trophy [for man of the match].”
He said his team left the pitch too spacious, as coach Roberto Martínez said: “We made the pitch too big.”
The whole thing led to the coach who technically lost, Canadian John Herdman, huddling with his team brimming with passion and saying, “You proved you can live here!” True that. Herdman later said, “I’m proud of the guys. The effort was unreal. . . And if we know how to be ruthless in attack, we will get something out of these games. This group is completely open. He jokingly recommended “four days of shooting practice” in advance.
The first question to Martínez, Belgium manager since 2016, was whether this had actually been the worst major game of his time in Belgium.
“Were we technically the worst game? Yes,” she said.
“Was it the worst match? No,” she said, because a win precludes that distinction.
To be clear, Belgium opened Group F with a victory and jumped to the top of the group that also includes Croatia and Morocco, who drew 0-0, because they didn’t give up their know-how. “Winning when you don’t play well doesn’t happen by accident,” said Martínez. Belgium benefited from Canada’s festival of bold offers decorated with foul shots, and then grabbed the one game they’d need.
This came in the 43rd minute, when Toby Alderweireld, the 33-year-old making his 125th cap, sent a long, pretty thing up the field around 60 yards and struck in a spot that could prove useful. There, Michy Batshuayi, the 29-year-old often dubbed “Batsman”, didn’t get it as much as he did, charging into the box and quickly catching it early on his second jump with defenders Richie Laryea and Kamal Miller breathing at him, then punching him hurry to the back right corner of the door.
Injustice filled the air.
Canada, with its brilliant 22-year-old phenom Alphonso Davies, who appeared to be recovering from a hamstring injury and moving electrically, must have looked very different from what only 14,200 spectators saw on June 9, 1986 in Irapuato, Mexico . In their previous World Cup game that day, the Canadians ended their stay with a 2-0 loss to, yes, the Soviet Union, and left that World Cup winless and goalless.
They’re still looking for that first goal, and you have to think they’re going to get it here, and they almost got it in single-digit minutes. It was then that Tajon Buchanan unleashed a shot from a crowd inside the box and legendary 30-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois grabbed it, but VAR scrutiny showed Belgian Yannick Carrasco had passed, and suddenly Canada had a penalty over about nine minutes, even though it took the referee about half an eternity to blow the whistle that it was in progress.
Davies caught him and slid him left just as Courtois lunged right to meet him, knocking him back into the box, where Davies hit him again but skied a less than optimal chance. That said, Courtois circled his chest like a goal pharaoh, and his teammates surrounded him with admiration and gratitude.
Japan upends Germany in Qatar and another World Cup darling is born
Then his team moved on slowly. “You have to give huge respect to Canada’s performance,” said Martínez. “We knew they were so dynamic, so aggressive.” He called them “a modern team” in which “everyone defends” and “everyone attacks”. He also cited the strange timing of this 22nd World Cup, with his limited time for team cohesion, and said: “Today is our fifth day together. You see the format would have been about national teams rising through the group stages. If you can win while you’re doing it, it’s going to be an incredible opportunity.”
However, before Belgium could enter its next few days of “self-criticism and analysis,” as Martínez put it, Canada had held firm, en route to a 19-6 lead in shooting. The shots went wide to the right. The shots went wide to the left. The shots went mainly over the goal. Courtois dived to the right to stop Cyle Larin’s header from Alistair Johnston’s fine cross in the 79th minute. Davis recovered beautifully from the penalty and earned Herdman’s assessment of him as “brilliant tonight” and “much more disciplined” by showing “courage” and being “resilient”.
All of this and more went on throughout the first half and most of the second, until the whole thing became a humorous reminder that life isn’t fair.
Qatar World Cup
real-time updates: European powers take center stage in Qatar on Wednesday, where the group stage of the World Cup continues. Follow us for the latest news, updates and highlights.
USMT: Upon their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team faces a tougher task on Friday against Group B favorites England , who demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier on Monday.
Qatar controversy: Football fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusiveness, said they were refused entry to World Cup stadiums and were confronted by members of the public about having the emblem removed.
Group guide: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by head coach Gregg Berhalter and forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on their disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group accumulate.