Canada would’ve won if not for Belgium’s Courtois

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Despite a spirited performance by Canada in their first World Cup appearance since 1986, Belgium won Wednesday’s Group F opener 1-0 thanks to three big saves from Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and at least one missed penalty call that ended in favor Canada’s should have gone out.

Canada had an early opportunity to take the lead after being awarded a penalty within 10 minutes but Alphonso Davies’ attempt was blocked by Courtois. Canada has never scored a World Cup goal. Just before the end of the first half, Belgian Michy Batshuayi scored with a long ball.

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

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Fast reaction

1. A cruel but proud night for Canada

Football can be cruel at times – and the Canadians certainly experienced that in their first World Cup game since 1986 against Belgium.

Unlike other teams in this tournament, they showed no nerves from the start. They played attacking football with movement, intensity and passion, fueled by the noise and support of the 10,000 Canadians at Hamad 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, high pressing and good use of the pitch.

Stephen Eustaquio (what a player) and veteran Atiba Hutchinson – 39 years old, the oldest player at that World Cup and the only surviving member of the squad for Canada’s last World Cup appearance in 1986 – dominated the midfield. They created chances and generated 2.35 expected goals or xG for Canada versus 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 regret it. A defensive error 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 Canadian team should have learned a hell of a lot against Belgium.

2. Courtois, king of feathers and savior of Belgium

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

Courtois once again played big for his country, as he has so often in the past, saving Davie’s penalty after 11 minutes and confirming he is the king of pens. In 2022 he saved five penalties out of the nine he faced – that’s an impressive rate of 55.55% of penalties saved and by far the highest in Europe. He has received 22 penalties and saved six since joining Real Madrid in 2018 – but four of those six happened in 2022.

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

In a very poor performance from Belgium, Courtois was really the only light. The rest was so poor – the third in the last World Cup was not dangerous up front, defended himself on the defensive and conceded chances and dangerous situations.

It was very unconvincing and tedious coming from Belgium – but when you have the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment it makes your life that much easier.

3. A free night for Hazard and De Bruyne

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

For De Bruyne, the job was to be the conductor of this Belgian side, controlling the game and being the creative force. Instead, he pretty much got it all wrong. He twice missed a free Youri Tielemans in the first half. Just after the hour mark he wasted a great counterattack with a bad ball for Batshuayi and later fired his shot over the bar from a good position.

It was a performance very unlike the KDB we saw at Manchester City, perhaps in large part because the supporting cast around him aren’t on the same level as those he has at his club, but nonetheless : We expect more from him . It’s his job to carry this team.

For Hazard, the goal was to show that even without match fitness, he can still make an impact in a game like this. Unfortunately, despite some good touches and turns, the captain’s performance wasn’t good enough.

He came off after 60 minutes with no chances, only 76% accurate passes and only two successful dribbles. He was fouled four times though, which showed he still has some life left, but that’s not enough at the moment.

Manager Roberto Martinez was very loyal to the 31-year-old, who rarely plays for Real Madrid, and kept him in the team at all costs. He’s unlikely to drop him for Sunday’s game against Morocco but Hazard, like De Bruyne, will be under pressure to do better than he did against Canada.

Player Ratings

Belgium: 8 Courtois, 5 Dendoncker, 6 Alderweireld, 4 Vertonghen, 5 Castagne, 3 Tielemans, 4 Witsel, 4 Carrasco, 4 De Bruyne, 4 Hazard, 6 Batshuayi

Subtitle: Onana 5, Openda 4, Meunier 4, Trossard 4

Canada: Borjan 5, Johnston 6, Vitoria 5, Miller 6, Hoilett 6, Larin 5, Hutchinson 7, Eustaquio 7, Laryea 6, Buchanan 6, Millar 5, Davies 6, David 5

Subtitle: Osorio 5, Kone 5, Adekugbe 5

Best and worst performers

BEST: Stephen Eustaquio, Canada

The Porto midfielder dominated the game until he was substituted after 81 minutes. Eustaquio, 25, was everywhere, capturing the ball nine times and creating two chances for his team while playing with intensity, intelligence and flair. It was his breakthrough in Portugal and against Belgium he showed again how talented he is.

WORST: Youri Tielemans, Belgium

It was a tough night for the Leicester midfielder, so much so that his manager decided to take him in at half-time to bring in Amadou Onana. Tielemans simply had no influence on the game, was too high, played only 13 passes in 45 minutes, hardly one forward. It was a really disappointing performance.

Highlights and notable moments

Canada came out with intensity and pace after the first whistle and immediately put pressure on Belgium. It looked like Canada was about to take the lead when a handball was called in the 10th minute.

Alphonso Davies, Bayern Munich full-back and leading man for Canada, got on the spot but Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois continued his recent good form by saving penalties and he denied Davies the win.

Canada had dominated the first half and were by far the more dangerous team, even beyond the missed penalty opportunity. By the 43rd minute, Canada’s expected goals (xG) was 1.81 while Belgium’s was just 0.15.

But football, or soccer – whatever you want to call it – is a fun game: a team can be the “worse” side, but still win the side. In the 44th minute, Michy Batshuayi gave Belgium a 1-0 lead with a long ball over the top against the flow of play.

After the game: What the coaches said

Canada coach John Herdman on the result: “Proud of the performance but you need to get three points from your first game. We had an opportunity to win our group tonight – that was the mission – and we missed it. But I’m proud of the performance. As I have been said these guys changed and showed that they can live on this stage. I think they made the fans proud and made them feel like they belonged here and that was important for us.”

Herdman on what he said to his players after the game: “I just showed them the stats. I showed them that they belong here. I told them they belong here and we go and ‘F’ Croatia. This is as easy as it gets. This is now our next mission.” (Editor’s note: Canada is in Group F for the World Cup.)

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez on the win: “Canada deserved to be better than us in the way they played. I think the result reflects the things we had to do and the way we defended each other and took our chance. It’s a win and we have to play better and keep going.” to grow. We’ve been here for five days, we have to grow with these games. A lot of top teams lose games.”

Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

  • Canada is the first team since 1978 to have more than 20 shots (22) and a penalty and not score in a World Cup game.

  • Canada’s 2.59 expected goals (xG) against Belgium is the highest total expected goals excluded at this tournament.

  • Canada becomes the first team to attempt at least 14 shots in the first half but fail to score and Down at halftime in a World Cup game since 1986.

  • Belgium’s starting XI against Canada had an average age of 30 years and 181 days. This is the oldest starting XI in a World Cup game in 2022 and the oldest for Belgium since June 20, 1998 against Mexico.


Belgium: Group F continues on Sunday, November 27 where Belgium meets Morocco at 8:00am ET. Then Belgium meets Croatia on Thursday, December 1st at 10:00am ET.

Canada: Group F continues on Sunday, November 27 where Canada take on Croatia at 11:00am ET. Then Canada meets Morocco on Thursday, December 1st at 10:00am ET. Canada would’ve won if not for Belgium’s Courtois

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