A first half goal from Michy Batshuayi hands Belgium a hard-fought 1-0 win over Canada in their World Cup opener in Qatar.
The result means the Red Devils move top of Group F with Croatia and Morocco both tied on one point – following their 0-0 draw earlier on Wednesday – after the opening round of matches.
Canada’s pace caused Belgium’s aging backline a wealth of problems and they had the chance to take the lead in the 13th minute from the penalty spot after a Yannick Carrasco handball at a corner.
Alphonso Davies stepped up to take but his poor shot was denied by Thibaut Courtois who dived low to his right to make the stop.
Canada continued to pressure and had a penalty shout reviewed by VAR in the 39th minute when Richie Laryea went down in the area under a challenge from Axel Witsel, but it was deemed to not be a penalty.
Two minutes before half time and Belgium took the lead against the run if play through Batshuayi. He latched onto a hopeful long ball by Toby Alderweireld and slotted his shot into the bottom corner.
The second half was a scrappy affair with Belgium keen to disrupt Canada’s rapid attack at any opportunity.
Canada had plenty of shots on goal but lacked cutting edge. Their best opportunity to equalise came in the 49th minute when Jonathan David nodded a free header over the bar.
Substitute Cyle Larin also had a good chance to level with ten minutes of normal time left, but his tame header from close range was caught by Courtois.
TALKING POINT – HOW FAR CAN BELGIUM REALISTICALLY GO?
Belgium rode their luck at times against Canada who had 22 shots on goal compared to the Red Devils’ seven.
Veterans Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen struggled with the pace of Canada’s attack and the scoreline could have been very different had Alphonso Davies converted a first half penalty.
Although Belgium did secure the three points they needed, Morocco and Croatia will both fancy their chances against Roberto Martinez’s side who looked a creakier outfit than the one that reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – RICHIE LARYEA
The Canada wingback constantly exploited the gap left between Yannick Carrasco and Jan Vertonghen in the first half which forced Martinez to bring off the Atletico Madrid midfielder at half time.
His pace and deliveries into the box overwhelmed Belgium at times and he made a crucial block to stop Batshuayi from getting a goalbound strike away midway through the second half.
Belgium: Courtois (7), Dendoncker (6), Alderweireld (5), Vertonghen (5), Castagne (6), Carrasco (4), Tielemans (5), Witsel (5), De Bruyne (5), E Hazard (6), Batshuayi (6)
Subs: Onana (5), Meunier (5), Trossard (5), Openda (N/A)
Canada: Borjan (6), Johnston (5), Vitoria (5), Miller (5), Laryea (7), Hoilett (6), Hutchinson (6), Eustaquio (6), Buchanan (6), Davies (6), David (6)
Subs: Larin (5), Kone (5), Adekugbe (5), Osorio (N/A), Millar (N/A)
11′ – COURTOIS SAVES DAVIES’ PENALTY!! The Bayern Munich man is denied by Courtois! The goalkeeper dives low to his right and bats it away! Unbelievable! It was a poor penalty by Davies. It was not aimed directly at the corner.
43′ – GOAL! BATSHUAYI FIRES BELGIUM IN FRONT! Batshuayi puts Belgium into the lead! A hopeful long ball over the top from Alderweireld finds the striker and he slots his finish into the bottom corner!
45+2′ – OVER THE BAR! Laryea’s low cross finds Buchanan at the front post but he fires his shot over the bar! That was a great chance for Canada to equalise!
49′ – WIDE FROM DAVID! Eustaquio nutmegs De Bruyne before his cross to the far post finds David, but his free header is wide of Courtois’ right post! Huge chance for Canada.
80′ – CHANCE FOR LARIN! Johnston’s cross into the box is a good one and it finds Larin. He connects but his header is caught by Courtois!