There won’t be many games at this World Cup where the expectations for one team are so great and the expectations for their opponents are so low but that is what we get when Belgium and Canada line up for their first game in Qatar.
Belgium have been sitting in first or second place on the FIFA Mens Rankings for the past five years, spending the last nine months in second place behind Brazil. Canada has spent that same time period in the top 100 teams in the world. The World Cup qualification tournament saw them grow as a team and they are now consistently in the top 40.
The ‘golden generation’ of Belgium are at a moment in time where they need to stand up and be counted. A third place finish at the last World Cup and a disappointing exit in the quarter finals of the UEFA Championships has to be improved upon. Canada have surprised many and have a young, hungry team who fear no one.
Location: Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Ar-Rayyan, Qatar
Date: Wednesday 23 November
Kick-off Time: 19:00 GMT / 14:00 ET / 11:00 PT
Belgium (3-4-3) Courtois; Debast, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco; De Bruyne, Batshuayi, Hazard
Canada (3-4-3) Borjan; Johnston, Vitoria, Miller; Buchanan, Eustaquio, Hutchinson, Adekugbe; David, Larin, Davies
Canada are led by Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, Lille striker Jonathan David and Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper Milan Borjan, and their qualification was impressive. Now the real hard work comes as Canada are up against higher quality opposition. A recent hamstring injury could cause Davies to miss this first match which would be a big loss for Canada.
Belgium should largely dominate proceedings, win, and score — as they have in all but two competitive games under Roberto Martinez. Kevin de Bruyne could win the game on his own if he is playing to his standard. However, Belgium also shape up nicely as an opponent Canada can breach to find their first World Cup goal.
Everton interest in this game will be limited with Amadou Onana in the Belgium squad but not expected to get much playing time. Former Blue Romelu Lukaku has a hamstring injury that he is not expected to recover from for at least another week.
For as consistently strong as Belgium have been, their defensive stability is their achilles heel. Between World Cup qualifiers and the most recent Nations League, they’ve conceded in 10 of their last 14 competitive fixtures — with three of four clean sheets against Belarus and Czechia, both of whom aren’t at the World Cup.
The gap is large but it is not as large as that between Argentina and Saudi Arabia and we know how that one ended!