During the Canadians’ first game at the FIFA World Cup, one thing became clear: they belong. The rest of the world took notice of Canada’s strong effort in the 1-0 loss to Belgium. Here’s a sample of what the English-speaking world was saying about the Canadian men’s national team (with links to original story):
This could have been the next World Cup shock of this edition, had Thibaut Courtois not saved Alphonso Davies’ first half penalty. There are brave underdog World Cup performances, shaded with naivety and often killed off by exhaustion — and then there was Canada. A thrilling return to the World Cup after their one forgettable appearance 36 years ago, they were outstanding in all aspects save those big moments in front of goal.
Inspired by Bayern Munich’s brilliant 22-year-old left wing-back Alphonso Davies, Canada stunned Belgium in the game’s opening stages with their high pressing, energy, and overall athleticism.
The North Americans were unlucky not to take the lead as early as the tenth minute, after Belgium’s Yannick Carrasco was judged to have handled Tajon Buchanan’s goal-bound effort by the referee after a consultation with VAR’s pitch-side monitor.
A clearly nervous Davies stood up to take the kick — but his effort was saved by keeper Thibaut Courtois, who was also, by some distance, Belgium’s best player on the night.
Despite this reprieve, throughout most of the first half Belgium’s aging squad looked no match for the effervescent Canadians, who were fizzing with enthusiasm, inventiveness, and — it should be emphasized — talent.
(Canada) made gaudy Belgium and its golden generation look aging for the possible reason that gaudy Belgium and its golden generation might be aging. The presence of a fresh foe full of unapologetic strivers made Belgium look as if it was dwelling in the fumes of quarterfinal and semifinal showings in the past two World Cups. At moments it almost seemed to creak audibly on the cool, clear night, even if 40,432 at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium maybe drowned out the sound.
Football can be cruel sometimes — and the Canadians, in their first World Cup match since 1986, certainly experienced that against Belgium.
Unlike other teams in this tournament, they showed no nerves from the opening whistle. They played attacking football with movement, intensity and passion, pushed by the noise and the support of the 10,000 Canadians inside the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. The game plan of their manager John Herdman was spot-on: no time on the ball for Kevin De Bruyne or Eden Hazard, pressing high and utilizing the width of the pitch well.
There must have been a sense of disbelief given Canada hadn’t made the most of an impressive performance with frustration etched all over their faces.
Despite the defeat, Canada looked like a team that belonged on the world stage and it can be proud of giving the world’s second-ranked team a real fright.
The performance was clearly appreciated by the thousands of Canadian fans who had made the long journey to Doha, with supporters staying in their seats and cheering their team as the players eventually trudged off the pitch.
To their great credit Canada refused to take a backward step even after this setback, but main striker David, who has earned a big reputation with Lille, could not make the most of a clear headed opening in the second half.
Canada, however, can take pride and hope from this performance. They may have lost all four World Cup games they have played without scoring a goal, but there was so much to admire about their showing here.
Both the wait and the weight of expectations got to Alphonso Davies. He was 14 years from being born when Canada last played at this level in 1986. To be asked to take a penalty kick 10 minutes into their campaign that could have fetched Canada their first World Cup goal against a team ranked No. 2 in the world and full of players they call a golden generation all got a bit too much for Davies. That and the time Belgium took before Thibaut Courtois took to get ready.
Like his former club mate Robert Lewandowski, Davies’ effort was poor which Courtois went down on his right to save in what was a 1-0 win for Belgium courtesy a Michy Batshuayi strike in the 44th minute. The penalty rebound too fell Davies’ way but at a difficult height and the left-side attacking player shanked his shot. Belgium breathed again getting away with a booking for Yannick Carrasco for handball after Tajon Buchannan’s shot hit his hand.
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