Canada’s World Cup return looked stunning in every way but one


RAYYAN, Qatar – Canada returned to the World Cup on Wednesday after 36 years and brought freshness, panache, speed, speed, spark, sparkle, brains, madness, cosmopolitanism, the really cool national anthem, throatily sung by many players and staff, penetrations , flanks, high balls and competence but no goals.

They lost 1-0 to Belgium because football imitates life and life isn’t fair.

It aged gaudy Belgium and its golden generation, for the possible reason that gaudy Belgium and its golden generation might age. The presence of a new opponent full of uncompromising nerds made Belgium look as if they could host quarter-finals and semi-finals of the last two World Cups. At times there seemed to be an almost audible creaking sound on the cool, clear night, though 40,432 at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium might have drowned out the sound. Manchester City’s Belgium star playmaker, 31-year-old Kevin De Bruyne, had a somber voice as he said afterwards: “No, I don’t think I made a great game. No, I don’t know why I have the trophy (for the man of the match).”

He said his team left the pitch too wide as manager Roberto Martinez said: “We made the pitch too big.”

It all resulted in the manager who lost technically, Canadian John Herdman, huddled passionately with his team and said, “You’ve shown you can live here!” Right, that. Herdman later said, “I did I’m proud of the boys. The effort was unreal… And if we can be ruthless in attack then we’ll get something out of these games. This group is wide open.” He jokingly recommended “four days of shooting practice” in advance.

The first question for Martinez, who has been Belgium coach since 2016, was whether this was indeed the worst major game of his Belgium tenure.

“Were we technically the worst game? Yes,” he said.

“Was it the worst game? No,” he said, because a win eliminates that distinction.

To clarify, Belgium opened Group F with a win and topped the group that also includes Croatia and Morocco with a 0-0 draw by keeping their know-how at bay. “Winning when you’re not playing well doesn’t happen by accident,” Martinez said. Belgium capitalized on Canada’s feast of bold bids adorned with misses, then caught the only game they would need in the end.

That happened in the 43rd minute when Toby Alderweireld, the 33-year-old on his 125th cap, sent a long and pretty thing maybe 60 yards across the pitch and landed where it could come in handy. There, Michy Batshuayi, the 29-year-old, who is often dubbed the ‘batsman’, didn’t pen it as much as understood, charging towards the penalty area and taking it quickly early in his second jump with defenders Richie Laryea and Kamal Miller breathing on him and then hastily drill into the back right corner of the gate.

Injustice filled the air.

Canada, with its beaming 22-year-old phenomenon Alphonso Davies, looking healed from a hamstring injury and moving with electric mobility, must have looked very different than what just 14,200 viewers saw on June 9, 1986 in Irapuato, Mexico. That day, the Canadians ended their last World Cup game with a 2-0 loss to, yes, the Soviet Union, and they left that World Cup without a win or a goal.

They’re still looking for that first-ever goal and you have to assume they’ll get it here, and they’ve almost achieved it in the single-digit minute range. That was when Tajon Buchanan lashed out a shot from a crowd in the box and legendary 30-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois grabbed him, but the VAR review showed it had been given to Belgian Yannick Carrasco and suddenly Canada had a penalty after about nine minutes, although it took about half to forever for the referee to whistle it in progress.

Davies grabbed it and shoved it left as Courtois dove right to hit it, knocking it back into the box where Davies slammed into it again but had a suboptimal chance. With that, Courtois hopped like a pharaoh of the goal-mouth and his team-mates surrounded him with admiration and gratitude.

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Then his team slowly moved on. “You have to give a lot of respect to Canada’s performance,” Martinez said. “We knew they were so dynamic and aggressive.” He called them “a modern team” where “everyone defends” and “everyone attacks”. He also cited the strange timing of this 22nd World Cup with its limited time for team cohesion, saying: “Today is our fifth day together. You see the format should be about national teams growing in the group stages. If you can win at that, it’s an incredible opportunity.”

But before Belgium could enter the next few days of “self-criticism and analysis,” as Martinez put it, Canada was on course for a 19-6 lead in shots. Shots missed to the right. Shots went far to the left. Most of the shots went over the goal. Courtois dived right and stopped Cyle Larin’s header after a fine cross from Alistair Johnston in the 79th minute. Davis made a wonderful recovery from the penalty, earning Herdman’s assessment as “brilliant tonight” and “much more disciplined” while showing “courage” and being “resilient.” All of that and more continued through the first half and most of the second, until it all became a fun reminder that life isn’t fair.

World Cup in Qatar

Live Updates: European powers take center stage in Qatar on Wednesday, where World Cup group matches resume. Follow us for the latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: On their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw with Wales in their Group B opener defeated Iran 6-2 on Monday.

Qatar controversy: Football fans who wear the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they have been denied entry into World Cup stadiums and have been confronted by the public to remove the emblem.

Group leader: The USA men’s soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on a disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 season. Here’s a close look at how all the teams in each group are faring stack.

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