Belgium’s Red Devils are among the World Cup’s favourites, but shouldn’t expect a walk in the park when they meet minnows Canada in their opening Group F fixture in Qatar on Wednesday (23 November).
Canada winger Tajon Buchanan, who plays for Belgian champions Club Brugge, reckons Les Rouges can spring a major surprise in the tournament despite sitting 41st in the FIFA rankings, way behind group opponents Belgium (2) Croatia (12) and Morocco (22).
Asked in an interview with The Brussels Times if Canada can make it into the top two in their group to progress to the knockout stages, 23-year-old Buchanan is bullish.
“Of course. I mean, what other reason would we be going to Qatar for? We're going there to win. Every game. We're trying to lift the World Cup.”
Buchanan goes into the finals in great form. Despite missing two months of the season with a quad injury, he’s played in every game for Club Brugge since returning to action at the end of September, helping the Blauw-Zwart to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League.
His 27-year-old club team-mate Cyle Larin, all-time leading scorer for Canada with 25 goals in 55 appearances, has been on the fringes at the Jan Breydel Stadium in recent weeks but is in equally confident mood and quick to dispel any concerns about his fitness.
“I'm in really good shape. I've worked really hard over the last couple of months to make sure I'm ready for the World Cup and, as long as my team-mates give me the ball, I will score. As long as I'm playing, I’ll score.”
Both players were given a run-out in a confidence-boosting 2-1 friendly win against Japan at Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai last Thursday (17 November). Midfielder Liam Fraser, who plays for second-tier Deinze in Belgium, was an unused substitute.
There was no sign that Canada, coached by charismatic Brit John Herdman, were rattled by a dispute with their national association over World Cup prize money. “Our job is just about performing and winning games,” says Buchanan.
In contrast, Robert Martinez’s Red Devils lost 2-1 in their warm-up match against Egypt in Kuwait City on Friday (18 November), despite dominating possession against The Pharaohs, whose line-up included Liverpool star Mo Salah.
Lens striker Loïs Openda pulled back a late goal for Belgium after Egypt took a 2-0 lead through Mostafa Mohamed and Trézéguet.
While few will read too much into the outcome of two friendly games, the results will give the Canucks hope as they prepare to face the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois.
And despite their lowly FIFA ranking, Canada are not short of quality themselves.
Former Gent striker Jonathan David, 22, part of the Lille squad that upstaged Paris Saint-Germain to win the French Ligue 1 title in 2021, is tipped to move to the Premier League after the finals.
Influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, 25, is in a rich vein of form with FC Porto and 22-year-old Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies, born in a refugee camp in Ghana, is rated as one of best left-backs in world football.
However, with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco as their group adversaries, Canada will have to prove themselves in Qatar.
Belgium vs Canada (Group B) is tonight at 20:00 at Al Rayyan Stadium, Qatar.