Belgium opened their World Cup campaign with a 1-0 victory over a Canadian side that will feel dissapointed that they were not able to get on the scoresheet. Alphonso Davies missed a crucial penalty, while the Canadians failed to convert their 22 shots on goal.
In what was a smash and grab moment, Belgium took the lead through a Toby Alderweireld long ball to Michy Batshuayi, who finished well to put the Red Devils 1-0 up. Belgium played much of the game on the counter-attack, but the side looked disjointed and despite a strong second half defensive performance, their attacking play was poor. So, what three things did we learn from this game?
1. Pre-tournament concerns over Belgian defensive frailty remains
During the first half, Canada’s front line ran the Belgian back line ragged. Club Brugge’s Tajon Buchanan was everywhere, picking the ball up in between the lines on many occasions. The Belgian defence struggled to cope, and it appeared that there was little midfield assistance to alleviate the pressure, especially in the first half. Morocco have an equally dynamic front line, with Hakim Ziyech and Sofian Boufal. However, the Atlas Lions struggled to finish against Croatia, so Belgium may be able to get away with it in the Group stages, but during the knock-outs it could be their Achilles heel. Roberto Martinez may well have to shake things up at the back as the tournament progresses, despite a better performance in the second half.
2. The Kevin De Bruyne and Michy Batshuayi partnership remains a work in progress
Clearly, the creativity in this Red Devil’s side is reliant on the world class talents of Kevin De Bruyne. However, in this game the usual high quality technician appeared off the pace, and his link up with lone striker Michy Batshuayi was off on many occasions. In many instances the two were not reading each others game, with De Bruyne making a pass for a run that Batshuayi wasn’t making. The Red Devils will certainly be hoping that Lukaku will be fit sooner rather than later to bring back the De Bruyne and Lukaku partnership. However, seeing the Fenerbahçe striker score will certainly have done the management some good. If the two can click against Morocco, it will certainly help the side in their attacking approach looking less disjointed.
3. Questions remain over what the best Belgian starting XI
Eden Hazard or Leandro Trossard? Amadou Onana or Youri Tielemans? Yannick Carrasco or Thomas Muenier? These are just three areas of the Belgian side that remain in flux, and none of these players gave a performance to guarantee they will start. Hazard managed all of the first half, and in patches showed his quality, while his lack of match fitness was also evident. Trossard was lively when coming on, but wasn’t clinical enough to push himself above Hazard. Tielemans was hooked early on, replaced by Onana who was solid but not spectacular. Neither Carrasco nor Muenier did much to call home about. All in all, it was a poor performance by Belgium overall and not many players stood out.
Red Devils fans will be hoping that the side are just easing themselves into the tournament, but they will certainly have to improve their overall play before the knock-out stages if they hope to go deep in Qatar.