Belgium narrowly beat Canada 1-0 at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium at the Qatar World Cup last night, in a performance which is unlikely to inspire confidence in manager Roberto Martinez’s pre-tournament prediction that the Red Devils could end up as the competition’s winners.
Belgium’s fortuitous victory came courtesy of a well-taken Michy Batshuayi finish just before half-time, after he connected with Toby Alderweireld’s long pass, striking the ball on the half-volley past keeper Milan Borjan.
Canada, who have yet to score or even earn a point at a World Cup match and whose appearance at this year’s tournament is only the second in their history, will certainly feel aggrieved to come away with nothing on the night — and will very likely be frustrated not to have earned all three points.
"Today was such a difficult game," Martinez admitted in a post-match interview with the BBC. "Canada was better than us… Today we didn’t win by our normal talent, our normal quality on the ball. We need to be realistic. We need to appreciate the win. We didn’t play well, that's clear. But when a team can win a game without playing well, it’s a lot to build on."
Canada (goal) dry
Inspired by Bayern Munich’s brilliant 22-year-old left wing-back Alphonso Davies, Canada stunned Belgium in the game’s opening stages with their high pressing, energy, and overall athleticism.
The North Americans were unlucky not to take the lead as early as the tenth minute, after Belgium’s Yannick Carrasco was judged to have handled Tajon Buchanan’s goal-bound effort by the referee after a consultation with VAR’s pitch-side monitor.
A clearly nervous Davies stood up to take the kick – but his effort was saved by keeper Thibaut Courtois, who was also, by some distance, Belgium’s best player on the night.
Despite this reprieve, throughout most of the first half Belgium’s ageing squad looked no match for the effervescent Canadians, who were fizzing with enthusiasm, inventiveness, and — it should be emphasised — talent.
Despite Belgium’s slightly improved performance in the second half, questions must certainly be asked both of Martinez’s team selection, as well as his choice of formation. Martinez opted to start winger Eden Hazard — who has barely kicked a ball for his club Real Madrid this season — over Leandro Trossard, who is arguably in the form of his life at Brighton.
Martinez’s penchant for sticking with his favoured 3-5-2 formation, despite many players’ clear discomfort with the system, must also surely be reconsidered before Belgium’s next match against Morocco on Sunday.
"We need to play better," Martinez said. If his words aren’t heeded, Belgium could be out of the competition much sooner than many people think.