Alphonso Davies missed a penalty for Canada as Belgium got off to a positive start to their World Cup campaign with an unconvincing 1-0 win.
After finishing third in the 2018 finals and boasting the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois, Belgium are ready to enter the tournament once again.
But they had to settle for a scrappy 1-0 win at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Michy Batshuayi’s goal on the stroke of half-time proving the difference as Canada failed to score despite having 22 shots on target.
The North American missed from the penalty spot when Bayern Munich forward Davies’ weak shot was saved by Courtois, before controversial official Janny Sikazwe parried two more strong penalty kicks in the first half.
The Zambian official rose to prominence after blowing his whistle twice at full-time before the 90th minute in an Africa Cup of Nations match earlier this year and his decisions here have left Canada tasting a bitter defeat.
England’s John Herdman worked wonders to lead Canada to its first World Cup since 1986, becoming the first manager to coach teams in both the men’s and women’s World Cups.
But his players certainly haven’t caved in under the pressure, often beating their European counterparts and setting up a goalscorer in their bid to qualify from Group F.
A strong start would pay dividends when Tajon Buchanan’s shot from the edge of the box hit Yannick Carrasco’s arm, a penalty eventually conceded by Sikazwe after consulting his pitchside monitor.
After a long wait, Davies’ tame penalty was easily saved by Courtois and the rebound flared over the top as Canada missed a fine chance to take the lead.
A referee mishap could have cost Canada another penalty when Jan Vertonghen seemingly clipped Buchanan, only for the flag to be raised for offside against the Canadian winger despite the ball coming from a back pass by Hazard.
Hutchinson shot wide as Herdman’s men continued to hold their own against a side unbeaten in their last 12 World Cup group stage matches in Qatar.
Each time Canada got ahead they caused trouble as Alistair Johnston went down to a strong challenge on the edge of the box before getting back up and stinging Courtois’ palms in a motivated effort.
Canada were denied another penalty after Axel Witsel tripped Richie Laryea – Sikazwe did not point to the spot or be guided to watch a replay by the VAR.
The seemingly inevitable punch came for Canada late in the first half as Batshuayi latched onto a nice ball from Toby Alderweireld over the top of the defense to whip up the 2018 bronze medals lead.
Again, Les Rouges didn’t drop his head as Buchanan slipped in, but only managed to send a shot high and wide when it should have equalised.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez made two changes at half-time but Canada were still leading, Stephen Eustaquio beating De Bruyne with a nutmeg before crossing for David, who should have done better with his header .
Substitute Cyle Larin forced Courtois to parry with his attempted header as a mixture of bad luck, close umpiring calls and loose finishing cost Canada a famous result.
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