Michy Batshuayi’s first-half goal was enough for the below-average Belgium to beat the Canadian side 1-0, which played their first World Cup game in 36 years on Wednesday.
Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saved Alphonso Davies’ early penalty and Batshuayi opened the goal in the 44th minute against the course of the game.
John Herdman’s Canada, roaring with vocal support, turned down another strong criminal appeal and dominated the second half to no avail.
Belgium was absent from injured record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku and struggled with the pace of Canada’s strikers.
But the 2018 semi-finalists clung to what could prove a fiercely contested Group F after Croatia and Morocco drew goalless early Wednesday.
“Was it technically our ‘worst game’, yes, when you measure performance,” admitted Belgium coach Roberto Martinez. “Was it the ‘worst match’, no, because we won.
We defended well and needed our goalkeeper.
Canada will still confidently enter their game against Croatia on Sunday, after doing more than just matching the second-placed team in the world, which will face Morocco in the next match.
“They showed they belong here tonight. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back,” said Herdman, who was the first coach to lead teams in men’s and women’s World Cups.
“I’m sure they[fans]left feeling proud and like we were a football country.
“I think this group stage is now fully open after the Croatia-Morocco result.”
Matching Belgium as a three-back formation, the North Americans got off to a bright start and Jonathan David’s low effort was widely deflected.
From the resulting corner, Yannick Carrasco blocked the shot from Tajon Buchanan with his arm and the penalty was awarded after the VAR check in the 11th minute.
But Davies made a weak effort, which was saved low to his right by Courtois before David kicked the rebound off the crossbar.
Belgium’s aging defense was struggling with the pace of the Canadian offensive players, and Junior Hoilett fell behind before he could take a wide shot.
The underdogs kept coming as Courtois parried right-back Alistair Johnston’s fierce driving and David drove off target.
Canada turned down a major penalty appeal despite VAR scrutiny when Axel Witsel was overtaken by Richie Laryea on the field and subsequently tripped.
Belgium took the lead from the ground up when a simple long ball from Toby Alderweireld found the run of Batshuayi, who hit home with his left foot.
Canada still had time to create and waste another great opportunity before the break, as Laryea’s low-mid was fired by Buchanan on the slide from six yards away.
Martinez made double substitutions at halftime to stop the tide, with Thomas Meunier replacing Carrasco and Everton’s youngster Amadou Onana in midfield.
Still, after smashing Porto midfielder Kevin De Bruyne with a nutmeg, David could have leveled up just minutes after the restart, as David made his way from Stephen Eustaquio’s delicious midrange to the open.
Herdman’s men continued to flow forward, but were unable to find the necessary finishing touches when Buchanan shot a horribly wrong shot from the edge of the penalty area.
The more men Canada sent, the more dangerous Belgium looked at the time-out and Laryea put up a great last-ditch fight to block Batshuayi’s second goal.
Cyle Larin, the top scorer in CONCACAF qualifying for the tournament, came very close to Courtois in a crazy final.
De Bruyne could have stopped the match but shone through the crowd, as Belgium crossed the line, Larin sent another head spinning over Courtois’ bar.
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