Wed, 06 Dec 2023

"Four days of shooting practice," came the wry reply from Canada boss John Herdman to a question about the preparations for his team's second game in Group F against Croatia.

Marksmanship deserted Canada during their opening match against Belgium on Wednesday night at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

Michy Batshuayi thrashed in Belgium's goal on the stroke of half-time with a vignette of clinical finishing.

The ball was launched from deep, the Fenerbahce forward ran on to and lashed the ball past the Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

It would have been a bookend had the opposing strike force been as deadeyed.

Alphonso Davies was the first of Canada's culprits. He scuffed his 11th-minute penalty to provide a straightforward save for goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois low to his right.

After that the world's second best team were decidedly second best as Canada - making their first appearance at the tournament in 36 years - probed and attacked with the verve and flair normally associated with their illustrious adversaries.


But Canada, nearly 40 places below Belgium in the Fifa world rankings, racked up the misses.

Atiba Hutchinson slammed wide mid way through the first-half and Tajon Buchanan scooped over from six yards just after Batshuayi's goal.

Three minutes into the second-half, Canada continued their munificence. Jonathan David rifled wide but at least Cyle Larin's header goalbound header brought a flying save from Courtois.

"When you are operating as an underdog, you rely on the team," added Herdman. You rely on a tactical identity.


"We know what our slingshot is and we have to adapt it across the different games. But I was really produ to see us represent our country and to show that we belong at this level."

Canada topped a qualifying group containing experienced outfits such as the United States and Mexico to reach the tournament for the first time since Mexico in 1986 where they lost all three games without scoring a goal.

"Our first goal was to play fearless and to entertain ... we did that," added Herdman.

"We had a couple of other goals which we did not achieve but we can progress if we stay connected and build our brotherhood."

Croatia, who drew 0-0 with Morocco in the earlier Group F fixture at the Al Bayt Stadium, will have been forewarned.


Belgium though will take heart from the grilling. "From a technical point of view it was our worst performance," conceded coach Roberto Martinez.

"But it was a win and it doesn't happen by accident. We've been together for six years and we had to show a different side to our play. We had to defend really well.

"You have to give huge respect to Canada's performance," Martinez added.

"We knew they were that dynamic. We didn't do well what we wanted to do and they did what they wanted to do really well.

"But I think we found a way to deserve the win."

Belgium can advance to the last-16 if they see off Morocco on Sunday at the Al Thumama Stadium.

Originally published on RFI

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