Who: Belgium versus Canada, Group F Where: Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan When: 19:00 (16:00 GMT)
This is perhaps the first time since Euro 2016 that Belgium has taken part in a major tournament without being announced as a contender — the splendor of its golden generation has waned.
They’ve won each of their six group games in the last two World Cups, but this time they’ll face off in a group with the 2018 finalists, Croatia, Morocco and their opponents in the opening game, Canada.
The Canadian Maple Leafs have arrived in Doha full of hope. This will only be their second World Cup appearance — the first since 1986.
Belgium’s track record in recent years shows that they have clearly outperformed lower-ranked teams but are facing high-quality opponents. They lost to eventual champions France at the 2018 World Cup and to Italy in the quarter-finals of the European Championships last year.
Eden Hazard, one of Belgium’s outstanding players at the 2018 World Cup, has barely been represented for Real Madrid since moving in 2019. While many had called for him to be replaced by Leandro Trossard in the starting eleven, manager Roberto Martinez’s trust in his captain has not wavered.
Romelu Lukaku was plagued by injuries and poor form last year, and the Red Devils are missing a strong backup striker to make up for his absence. The linchpin of their defense, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, are 68 years old together.
Ready for my third World Cup! 🔥 @BelRedDevils pic.twitter.com/wkvjzyw19C
— Kevin De Bruyne (@KevinDeBruyne) November 10, 2022
Kevin de Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois, arguably the only two world-class players in the squad, will be decisive for Belgium’s chances.
The Maple Leafs secured their place in the tournament in style, winning eight of their 14 games in the CONCACAF qualifiers and beating heavyweights Mexico and the USA.
While 22-year-old FC Bayern Munich is the undisputed star from Canada with full back Alphonso Davies, striker Jonathan David from Lille and Cyle Larin, striker from Club Brugge, Cyle Larin, showed in the qualifying games. Larin was the top scorer with 11 goals, David was just behind in second place with nine goals.
The pace and vigor of the Canadian attack will make for a fascinating battle against the aging but experienced Belgian rearguard. The only time these two teams have met before was in a friendly game in 1989, in which Belgium won 2-0.
Belgium is taking part in the World Cup indifferently after losing to the Netherlands and Egypt in the last two games. Canada, too, has only won two of its last five games.