Belgium knocked out by Canada, but Michy Batshuayi strikes to take victory | World Cup 2022

John Herdman left the stage when it was announced that the player of the match would be next to face the media. The FIFA award winner left the Canadian head coach baffled. “Kevin De Bruyne is player of the match? Wow,” he said. If there was an insult, it was only to Canada.

The Belgian playmaker was embarrassed to be praised after Canada brought everything but a clinical touch to their first World Cup appearance in 36 years. His honesty and Michy Batshuayi’s brutal finish were the only highlights of an unsettling evening for Roberto Martínez’s team. “I don’t think I played a great game. I don’t know why I got the prize, maybe it’s the name,” De Bruyne admitted. “We didn’t play a good game, neither did I, but the great thing was that we found a way to win.”

Martínez claimed Belgium deserved victory – he was in a company of one – despite admitting a journalist had a point when they asked if this was his team’s worst performance in a tournament match. “It depends on what you mean by worst match,” replied the national coach of Belgium. “Technically, yes. But worst performance? No. We won, and you don’t win by accident.” Belgium won mainly thanks to the debauchery of Canada and the impressive goalkeeping of Thibaut Courtois.

Canada had 21 attempts on goal against Belgium’s nine, but only three on target. One of these was a penalty from Alphonso Davies and that also failed to pass Courtois. Canada has now gone a record four games without scoring in the World Cup. Their Achilles’ heel stood between a memorable evening and an undeserved defeat. “We’ve shown that we belong here,” said British-born Herdman. “I’m sure our fans walked out, proud that we are a football nation.”

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Belgium started the World Cup in a trance. They looked dazed and pedestrian compared to an opponent who was a blur of energy and shrewd movement in his all-white kit.

Canada had qualified for its first World Cup since 1986, and only the second in its history, with a fearless approach based on speed and high pressure. They made no compromises on style against a team ranked second in the world. Their boldness should have paid tangible reward long before Batshuayi opened the scoring completely against the run of play.

But for more conviction from the penalty spot and more composure on the last ball or shot, Canada would have built a comfortable lead. They were awarded an early penalty when Tajon Buchanan’s shot hit Yannick Carrasco’s outstretched arm and the VAR referee Janny Sikazwe advised to consult the monitor after initially ignoring Canada’s calls.

Sikazwe, the Zambian official who made headlines earlier this year when he blasted full-time at the start of an Africa Cup of Nations match between Tunisia and Mali, corrected his decision. The Bayern Munich player’s effort was weak and comfortably within range for Courtois, who parried low to his right. Davies and Jonathan David also hashed the rebound. Herdman said: “It was a big moment. He carried the weight of a nation after 36 years, longer because it would have been our first target, and that calls for a special character.”

Canada's Alphonso Davies takes his penalty in the first half, which was saved by Thibaut Courtois.
Canada’s Alphonso Davies takes his penalty in the first half, which was saved by Thibaut Courtois. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Davies, who has pledged to donate all his World Cup earnings to charity, was visibly deflated. Canada was not. They drove forward en masse, taking advantage of gaps in a creaking Belgian defense where Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen showed their combined age of 68.

A claim for a second Canadian penalty was missed by the erratic match officials when Eden Hazard played a careless backpass to Buchanan, which was caught by Vertonghen. Buchanan was flagged for offside. VAR did look at another penalty appeal as Richie Laryea beat Axel Witsel for pace and was caught on the calf by the chasing midfielder. This time it sided with Sikazwe’s initial decision to award a goal kick.

Canadian captain Atiba Hutchinson, the second-oldest outfield player in World Cup history at 39, behind Roger Milla, aged 42, went wide after an outstanding run by Davies. Alistair Johnston forced Courtois into a fine save and David selfishly chose to shoot when Laryea was completely unmarked in the area. His shot landed in the arms of the Real Madrid goalkeeper.

Belgium barely threatened until a minute before the break when Canada was undone by a searching ball from Alderweireld’s defence. The pass saw Batshuayi sprint through a gap between the otherwise impressive Kamal Miller and Laryea and finish past Milan Borjan for the first time.

With Romelu Lukaku expected to miss two games as he recovers from a hamstring injury, Belgium need the former Chelsea forward in clinical form. They also need a vastly improved collective performance, although there was an uptick following the introduction of Amadou Onana for the second half. De Bruyne and Alderweireld got into a fight at one point. “We played too long when we had to play short-short-short,” said De Bruyne. “We weren’t brave enough. But there are no hard feelings with Toby.

Buchanan missed a glorious chance for the equalizing goal from a Laryrea cross in first half stoppage time. Canada pushed for parity throughout the second half, but with David heading wide after Stephen Eustaquio hugged De Bruyne and hovered over an inviting pitch, and Courtois produced a flying save to deny substitute Cyle Larin, they were severely punished for getting the Batshuayi’s ruthlessness. But Canada has something to build on.

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