When Belgium lost their World Cup semi-final 1-0 to France four years ago they complained bitterly that the best team on the day lost. Canada may well now have the same grumble following their Group F fixture at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Wednesday.
Michy Batshuayi’s goal before halftime settled the result in the favour of Belgium, but they were well below the standard set by their “Golden Generation” in recent years, sloppy in possession and too passive against energetic opponents.
Alphonso Davies missed an early penalty for the Canadians, who had 21 shots at goal through the 90 minutes, restricting Belgium to less than half that number, but either fired wide or took a touch too many and were closed down.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, who looked exasperated on the sidelines, will be worried at how easily his side were prised open, and it is fair to say a better team would have buried them.
Simple passes went astray and they allowed Canada’s press to harry them into errors, while going forward there was a distinct lack of cohesion and coordination.
The usually mercurial Kevin De Bruyne had arguably his poorest game in a Belgium shirt for some time, wasting what quality possession he got in the Canada half by picking the wrong pass or shooting well wide of goal.
Captain Eden Hazard played an hour – as was always the plan given his lack of game-time at Real Madrid this season – but offered very little, bar one sublime touch in the Canadian box that almost created an opening.
Without the injured Romelu Lukaku, who bullies the back four with a physical presence few other strikers can match, Belgium look a little light up front. Not just in this game, the signs were also there in Friday’s 2-1 friendly loss to Egypt.
It was perhaps fitting that their goal came from a route one long ball from defender Toby Alderweireld because they lacked the quality to open up Canada with intricate play.
Belgium face Morocco on Sunday, another opponent they will find difficult to break down. The question will be how much does a clearly frustrated Martinez change his team and tactics.
He could put this down to a bad day in the office and too many players simply not reaching their best level and, unlike Argentina and Germany, he can at least console himself with three points.
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