Despite being outplayed by Canada, Roberto Martinez’s team nonetheless managed to win 1-0 in their World Cup debut. Has Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’s’ best opportunity to capture a significant prize passed? It might seem that way. The only goal Michy Batshuayi scored in Roberto Martinez’s team’s Group F match against Canada on Wednesday night was enough to give them a victory, but it was completely undeserved.
Even though Belgium was severely outmatched, the Canucks just lacked composure, missing a penalty in an especially one-sided first half. They took eight shots in the first 15 minutes alone, but only one of them found their aim; Thibaut Courtois stopped an Alphonso Davies penalty kick. Martinez can legitimately claim that on matchday one, victory is the only thing that matters, but this was a performance that did little to dispel the long-held belief that his team is well past its prime.
The Performing Side:
Thibaut Courtois: Let’s face it: Davies’ punishment was horrible. To be overly critical of a 22-year-old participant in his first World Cup would be incorrect. Even in the best of circumstances, facing Courtois is challenging. He has a commanding presence. He can also appear unbeatable at times; he most certainly did so when Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in the Champions League final the previous year. Therefore, it wasn’t unexpected to see Courtois defeat Davies in their first duel of wits. After all, the Belgian No. 1 appeared capable of retaining the title in Russia 2018 after winning the Golden Glove trophy.
Michy Batshuayi: Even though Michy Batshuayi scored during the 2018 World Cup, his performance will be remembered for his celebration following Belgium’s group-stage victory over England by trying to kick the ball into the crowd, only to have it bounce off the post and up into his face. Being the kindhearted person that he is, Batshuayi laughed it off and later tweeted, “Why am I so foolish, bro?!” Fortunately, his performance in the 2022 World Cup may go down in history for all the right reasons. Indeed, Batshuayi might play a significant part in Qatar 2022 given Romelu Lukaku’s physical limitations, as he demonstrated here in Doha by expertly completing the first significant opportunity that came his way.
The Losing Side:
Belgium’s Back Two: Throughout the first half, Belgium as a whole failed miserably to contain Canada’s vigor and quickness, but the backline appeared especially lethargic, which is of course not a surprise. Two-thirds of the back three are made up of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who are both 33 years old. They still have their strengths, of course—Alderweireld delivered a beautiful pass over the top for Batshuayi to break the tie—but Al Rayyan made their flaws very clear.
Eden Hazard: Eden Hazard is aware of his diminished abilities as a player. In advance of the competition, he admitted it. He is no longer as quick or nimble as when he first terrorized defenders. Injury has made sure of that. Hazard believed he might be able to play at a respectable level here in Qatar despite being demoted to a reserve player at Real Madrid.
Based on his debut performance, that appears doubtful. There were a few instances of the old magic; the press box gasped as he caught one long ball over his shoulder in the first half. Sadly, that would be the high point of a night that was abruptly ended by his 62nd-minute substitution.
Kevin De Bruyne: Was that Kevin De Bruyne standing there really? You’re aware that Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in the world. Because what we witnessed tonight was a feeble replica of the guy who frequently lights up the Premier League. In the first half, De Bruyne botched a fantastic Belgian breakaway sent the ball straight into touch early in the second half, and then had the misfortune of getting nutmegged by Stephen Eustaquio, prompting one of the loudest shouts of the evening.
Even De Bruyne acknowledged that he had won the award solely based on name recognition when FIFA bizarrely declared him the man of the match. He will be aware of the fact that to lead this Belgium squad to the final, he must perform significantly better. Of course, even the best players may have a horrible game. However, if there is a deeper problem at hand, if De Bruyne is exhausted or feeling the strain from playing so many games in a short period this season, then Belgium is in serious trouble.
Yannick Carrasco: Not everyone views Yannick Carrasco as a top-tier wing-back. He is excellent moving forward, but the defense hasn’t exactly been his strong suit. Carrasco would spend the majority of the game on the front foot because Martinez anticipated Belgium to do the majority of the attacking here. However, as it turned out, he spent the majority of the first half fleeing. Therefore, it was unavoidable that he would leave the game at halftime because the Atletico Madrid player had already received a caution for carelessly handballing the ball and giving away the opening penalty.
For more World Cup 2022 Match Highlights and Results, keep watching this space.