Belgium have now won eight World Cup group stage games in a row, matching a tournament record previously set by Brazil, but it certainly wasn’t easy as they defeated Canada 1-0 in Group F.
The Canadians were relentless on their return to the World Cup after 36 years away, however they were met by a solid Thibaut Courtois, who saved an early Alphonso Davies penalty before Michy Batshuayi brilliantly took a chance towards the end of the first half for the only goal of the game.
Courtois’ penalty heroics
Right from the off, Canada played as if they, and not Belgium, were the second-ranked team in the world. That paid off with a 10th minute penalty, awarded after a Yannick Carrasco handball, but Alphonso Davies’ attempt was parried away by Courtois, who guessed the right way and got down low to stop it.
For the Real Madrid goalkeeper, this was yet another penalty save, his fifth from nine penalties faced in 2022. The Belgian has only been beaten by Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas, Girona’s Cristhian Stuani and Rayo Vallecano’s Óscar Trejo in 2022, while he has made saves against Valencia’s Gonçalo Guedes, Athletic’s Raúl García, PSG’s Leo Messi, Celtic’s Josip Juranovic and now Davies of Canada. To have saved more than half the penalties faced is truly incredible.
Thibaut Courtois has saved 5 out of 9 penalties faced in 2022. That’s 55%.— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 23, 2022
Keeps Belgium alive. pic.twitter.com/0XumtvWI6a
Courtois might have been needed again, as Canada had two more serious penalty shouts after the missed one. Just a few minutes after the Courtois save, a poor Eden Hazard back pass went straight to Tajon Buchanan and he was seemingly tripped, but an offside was bizarrely given instead. Then, later in the half, Richie Laryea was bundled over too, but no penalty was given there either. Courtois, of course, might have saved them anyway.
A nice hour from Eden Hazard
In the first half, Belgium offered almost nothing in attack apart from a couple of Batshuayi chances. The first of them was in the 23rd minute, when Hazard produced an absolutely spectacular piece of technical skill to bring the ball down and create space for himself at the same time. The ball was eventually funnelled to Batshuayi, but the striker couldn’t take the chance.
In the 44th minute, though, Batshuayi absolutely did take his chance. Roberto Martínez’s side spotted some space and went as direct as possible, with Toby Alderweireld playing a long ball forward that the Fenerbahçe man brought down and dispatched with power and precision.
That made it 1-0 and that ended up being the only goal of the game, as Canada couldn’t find a way back. In the second half, Courtois had to do well to save a Jonathan David header, but that was actually the North Americans’ only shot on target of the second period, as they were very imprecise in the final third.
That meant Belgium held on for the three points, although Hazard wasn’t on at the end of the game. He lasted 62 minutes, putting in a good performance even if we should rein in the hype a little. The Belgian captain had two successful dribbles from two attempts, won four freekicks and played 19 out of 25 passes, but he had no shots and no key passes and played that aforementioned back pass that could have resulted in a penalty.
So nice to see Eden play (and play well) at the big stage again.— Cesc Fàbregas Soler (@cesc4official) November 23, 2022
While many were keen to praise the former Chelsea man, including Cesc Fàbregas, this was just a fine performance from Hazard and not a brilliant one. He and Belgium as a whole still have a lot of work to do if they’re to repeat their run to the semi-finals from Russia.