Canada falls to Belgium in return to World Cup
It made shining Belgium and its golden generation look old for the possible reason that shining Belgium and its golden generation might be aging. The presence of a fresh enemy full of unflappable goalscorers has made Belgium look like they are dwelling on the fumes of quarter-final and semi-final matches at the past two World Cups. At times it seemed to screech almost audibly on the cold, clear night, even if the 40,432 at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium may have drowned out the sound. Manchester City’s star Belgian playmaker, 31-year-old Kevin De Bruyne, had sadness in his voice when he said afterwards: “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 wide, as manager Roberto Martinez said: “We made the pitch too big.”
The whole thing led to the manager who lost on a technicality, Canadian John Herdman, huddling with his team full of passion and saying: “You’ve shown you can live here!” True, that. Herdman said afterwards: “I’m proud of the boys. The effort was unreal. . . And if we are relentless in attack, we will get something out of these games. This group is wide open.” He jokingly recommended “four days of marksmanship practice” beforehand.
The first question to Martinez, Belgium’s manager since 2016, was whether this was actually the worst major game of his Belgian tenure.
“Were we technically the worst game? Yes,” he said.
“Was that the worst game? No,” he said, because a win eliminates that difference.
To clarify, Belgium opened Group F with the victory and jumped to the top of the group in which there are also Croatia and Morocco, who drew, 0-0, because he did not drop his knowledge. “Winning when you’re not playing well, it doesn’t happen by accident,” Martinez said. Belgium benefited from Canada’s festival of valiant bids peppered with stray shots, then grabbed the only game they would eventually need.
It happened in the 43rd minute, when Toby Alderweireld, a 33-year-old in his 125th game, sent a long and beautiful thing up the pitch perhaps 60 yards and hit a spot that could prove useful. There, Michy Batshuayi, the 29-year-old often referred to as “the Batsman”, didn’t so much catch it as understand it, charging into the box and quickly picking it up at the start of his second dive with defenders Richie Larye and Kamal Miller breathing on him, and then hastily drills it into the back right corner of the goal.
Injustice filled the air.
Canada, with its flamboyant 22-year-old phenom, Alphonse Davies, seemingly recovered from a hamstring injury and moving with electric energy, must have looked far different than what only 14,200 spectators saw on June 9, 1986, in Irapuato, Mexico . That day, in their previous World Cup match, the Canadians ended their stay with a 2-0 loss to, yes, the Soviet Union, leaving that World Cup winless and scoreless.
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. Then Tajon Buchanan took a shot from the crowd into the box and legendary 30-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois grabbed it, but a VAR review showed it had been handed by Belgium’s Yannick Carrasco, and Canada suddenly had a penalty with about nine minutes left, even and when it took about half way to forever for the referee to whistle it in progress.
Davies took it and pushed it to the left just as Courtois dived to his right to meet it, deflecting it back into the box, where Davies somehow beat it again but took a sub-optimal chance. With that, Courtois tied all his chest like a gluttonous pharaoh, and his teammates surrounded him with admiration and gratitude.
Then his team slowly moved on. “You have to give a lot of credit to the Canadian performance,” Martinez said. “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 unusual timing of this 22nd World Cup, with limited time for the team to recohese, and said: “Today is our fifth day together. You see the format was supposed to be about teams growing through the group stages. If you can win while doing that, it will be an amazing opportunity.”
Yet before Belgium embarked on the next few days of “self-criticism and analysis,” as Martinez put it, Canada kept it going, en route to a 19-6 advantage in shots. The shots went wide right. Shots went wide left. Most of the shots went over the goal. Courtois cut to the right and stopped Cyle Larin with a header after Alistair Johnston’s excellent cross in the 79th minute. Davis recovered nicely from the penalty to earn Herdman’s assessment of being “great tonight” and “much more disciplined”, while showing “guts” and being “resilient”.
All of that and more continued throughout the first half and much of the second, until the whole thing became a fun reminder that life isn’t fair.
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