Canada hadn’t been to the FIFA World Cup in 36 years but our national team served notice in Qatar on Wednesday they have zero interest in settling for a participation badge. They’re not, as they say, just happy to be there.
Despite Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Belgium, Canada clearly showed they belong on the world’s biggest soccer stage.
In fact, fringe fans who were told the second ranked soccer team in the world was playing in this match would probably assume we were talking about Canada and not the real number two, Belgium. The Canadians dominated the first half on Wednesday, looking fitter, stronger and faster, while creating several great scoring chances.
The best would come on an Alphonso Davies’ penalty kick after VAR revealed a Belgian handball, a call the referee missed (one of several). Davies wasn’t the automatic choice to take the kick. Some even called him the wrong choice. Despite being the club’s finest player, Davies is coming off a hamstring injury and many pundits believed that Ottawa’s Jonathan David is better at penalties and might have been the superior option. David takes penalties with his club team but Davies does not.
It certainly wasn’t the best ball from Davies, who’ll remember this one forever. His hard, low kick along the ground was denied and well within reach for 6-foot-6 Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois. The ball deflected right back to Davies who wasn’t able to control it and get square to the net in time for another strike.
Canada perhaps should have received two other opportunities from the spot but those were calls that didn’t go their way. The Canadian side kept Belgium pinned in their own end with a heavy push up front but that aggression seemed to leave them occasionally vulnerable on the back end in transition.
That cost them in the 44th minute.
After dominating the match to that point, Belgium caught the Canadian defence flat footed with a long ball to Michy Batshuayi, who outran everyone and beat Milan Borjan with a perfect shot just inside the post.
That one small Canadian lapse meant Belgium collected all three points from the match. And if they’re honest with themselves, the Belgians know they’re lucky to be doing so.
But Canada didn’t leave their opener with nothing. They take away confidence and undeniable proof they can truly compete with anyone in the world right now.
By Steve Warne