Belgium defeated a spirited Canada 1-0 in their 2022 World Cup opener at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, thanks to a goal from Michy Batshuayi.
Batshuayi’s 44th-minute strike was enough to settle a tense Group F clash in the Red Devils’ favor in the absence of Romelu Lukaku.
Thibaut Courtois saved an early Alphonso Davies penalty as Roberto Martinez’s side struggled against the nation ending their 36-year absence from the finals.
Nonetheless, Belgium extended their group-stage winning streak to eight games, the longest in the competition’s history (level with Brazil).
Belgium had a shaky start against the Canucks, who were awarded a penalty after VAR ruled Yannick Carrasco had handled Tajanan Buchanan’s shot in the box, but Courtois guessed correctly by diving to his right to keep out Davies’ tame spot-kick.
John Herdman, the first coach to lead a country to both the men’s and women’s World Cups, saw his team maintain the greater attacking threat. Alistair Johnston’s fierce strike pricked Courtois’ palms, while Buchanan and Atiba Hutchinson were off target.
But, just before halftime, Belgium took the lead against the run of play, with Batshuayi latching onto Toby Alderweireld’s long ball and firing past Milan Borjan.
Despite having the advantage in possession, Belgium continued to look off their game, with only one shot on target after the break.
Canada attempted to capitalize by bringing on top scorer Cyle Larin, whose header forced Courtois to make a save with 10 minutes remaining, but they were unable to equalize as their opponents held on for a narrow victory.
What does it imply? Belgium is up against a spirited Canada.
Despite being far from their best, Belgium moved to the top of Group F following Croatia’s goalless draw with Morocco earlier in the day.
Despite the loss, it was a historic day for Canada, which returned to the finals after a 36-year absence and were unlucky not to break their duck after Davies’ saved penalty.
Meanwhile, captain Hutchinson became the World Cup’s oldest outfield starter, at 39 years and 288 days.
Batshuayi takes the initiative.
With Lukaku’s return date uncertain, Batshuayi stepped up to score his 27th international goal in 49 appearances, tying him for sixth all-time with Joseph Mermans.
The Fenerbahce forward’s well-taken strike was one of five shots on goal on the night, a total only surpassed by Canada’s Jonathan David (six)
Courtois has appeared in more major tournaments for Belgium than any other player (23, level with Jan Ceulemans).
By earning his 98th cap, the Real Madrid goalkeeper moved closer to becoming the Red Devils’ seventh centurion, and he celebrated with a clean sheet and superb reflexes to deny Davies from the penalty spot.
What comes next?
On Sunday, both teams will return to Group F action. Belgium will look to improve against Morocco, while Canada cannot afford another loss against 2018 finalists Croatia.