Alphonso Davies reacts to his missed penalties. PA

Missed penalty proves costly as Canada fall to undeserved Belgian defeat

Michy Batshuayi’s first-half goal settled a game Belgium did not deserve to win.

Canada 0

Belgium 1

CANADA, RETURNING TO the World Cup for the first time since 1986, were quickly reacquainted with the sheer ignorance of the thing.

Here they were brilliant – muscular, brave, methodical and just better than a Belgium whose golden generation have long-since scaled their peak – and yet they were beaten. 

The game swung on two key moments bookending the first half. First Alphonso Davies missed a penalty and then Canada fluffed a long ball and were punished by the rapier-sharp Michy Batshuayi, playing instead of the injured Romelu Lukaku. 

Canada can leave with encouragement and some grievance – they were denied two legitimate penalties after Davies’ missed his -  but they will also ruminate on their lack killer instinct. They took 21 shots, but only three of them were on target. And one of those was Davies’ penalty.

Belgium, meanwhile, will take three points along with a sickly sense of foreboding. Based on this performance, relevance in the tournament’s final week looks beyond them. 

Canada’s fast start threw up a selection of emblems so take your pick. Alphonso Davies roadrunnering away from Youri Tielemans from a standing start, leaving him splat on the ground? Richie Lareya nonchalantly barging Yannick Carrasco off the ball twice in a second? 39-year-old Atiba Hutchinson crunching into tackles on Kevin De Bruyne? 

Canada tonight proved are much more than just Davies. Their combinations down either flank consistently created chances, while in Porto’s Stephen Eustaquio they have a Champions League-level playmaker, his low-slung socks, ramrod-straight back and coiled pop of a pass redolent of Thiago Alcantara. 

But it was Davies who had the golden opportunity to make palpable Canada’s strong start, after a VAR-awarded handball in the box by Yannick Carrasco after only 10 minutes. The referee forced him to wait a bewilderingly long time – those seconds felt long even in the context of the ending of a 36-year World Cup wait – and he ended up chunking his penalty too close to Thibault Courtois. 

belgium-v-canada-fifa-world-cup-2022-group-f-ahmad-bin-ali-stadium Alphonso Davies reacts to his missed penalties. PA PA

Davies should have been handed a first-half moment of redemption however, if not two of them. First of all an errant backpass by a Belgian player saw Jan Vertonghen clumsily hack down Tajon Buchanan. He was wrongly flagged offside, and the decision wasn’t even reviewed. The next moment of contention was reviewed, but the video assistant somehow didn’t deem Axel Witsel’s trip on Richie Lareya worth a trip to the monitor. 

They created plenty of chances from open play too: 14 first-half shots, among them a fizzing effort from marauding centre-half Alistair Johnston that was beaten away by Courtois. 

spqatar-al-rayyan-2022-world-cup-group-f-bel-vs-can Michy Batshuayi celebrates his winning goal. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

As for Belgium…their creaking was audible from the press box. Roberto Martinez’ tactics  have meanwhile evolved to their fully postmodern phase, the football equivalent of John Lennon writing I am the Walrus and declaring “Let the little f*****s work that one out.” Here he played a back three (cumulative age: 101) but experimented wildly with Youri Tielemans’ position.

Tielemans sat deep in midfield out of possession but pulled out to the right touchline when Belgium had the ball, almost the furthest player forward. Whatever it was meant to achieve, it merely exposed Tielemans – the youngest player in Belgium’s starting team – as also being unable to run. He was hooked off at half-time, replaced by the much more athletic Amadou Onana of Everton. 

Belgium got their few moments of joy when they dropped the pretence and simply got it launched. First the memory of Hazard’s glory years briefly flickered with a stunning touch and pirouette to take him clear of Johnston, but his pull-back was sightly behind Tielemans and the move ended with Batshuayi firing over the crossbar. But just as the clocked ticked to the 45th minute, Toby Alderweireld larruped the ball down the pitch and Batshuayi latched onto it, steering a superb shot beyond Milan Borjan. 

Canada didn’t take a step back after half-time. Eustaquio accentuated his quality by nutmegging De Bruyne and floating a perfect cross onto Junior Hoillett’s head, who diverted his header wide. 

They also fulfilled their quota of heroic, fist pump-worthy challenges that come with any great underdog performance. First Kamal Miller won a last-ditch challenge on Castagne that he had to win, and minutes later Lareya appeared from nowhere to take the ball from Batshuayi’s toe just as he was about to pull the trigger.  

But those acts did not get the goal they deserved, as, in truth, they ran out of steam, not testing Courtois beyond a planted header by substitute Cyle Larin. 

It will be cold consolation tonight but Canada belong at this level. 

Belgium must fear they may have permanently slipped from their once-rarified heights. 

Belgium: Thibault Courtois; Leander Dendoncker, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen; Timothy Castagne, Youri Tielemans (Amadou Onana, HT) Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco (Thomas Meunier, HT); Kevin De Bruyne, Michy Batshuayi (Lois Openda, 78′), Eden Hazard (Leandro Trossard, 62′) (captain) 

Canada: Milan Borjan; Alistair Johnston, Steven Vitoria, Kamal Miller; Richie Lareya (Sam Adekugbe, 74′); Atiba Hutchinson (Ismael Kone, 58′), Stephen Eustaquio (Jonathan Osorio, 81′), Alphonso Davies; Tajon Buchanan (Liam Millar, 81′), Jonathan David, Junior Hoillett (Cyle Larin, 58′)

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