In tonight’s last fixture, the 2018 Bronze medalists Belgium go head to head against Canada, who are making their first appearance in the World Cup since 1986. Although it is considered to be a largely one-sided fixture, it promises more than that meets the eye. Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s heroics against Lionel Messi’s Argentina is a reminder that the World Cup amplifies the unpredictability of the beautiful game. Canada brimming with youth and pace on the attack will be set to take their chances against the Red Devils, who are huge favourites going into the fixture.
When & Where?
Venue: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan.
Timing: 8:00 pm BST.
Injury concerns do have an impact on the Belgians as well, like some of the other big sides in the competition. Roberto Martinez’s first-choice striker Romelu Lukaku is out due to a thigh injury and hasn’t featured for Inter since the end of October. He is set to miss the first two fixtures of the WC.
Thomas Meunier of Dortmund was also recovering from a cheekbone fracture. However, he was fielded in the friendly against Egypt and is likely to start tomorrow. Brighton’s sensational forward Leandro Trossard made headlines after taking a knock in training which saw him missing out on the Egypt fixture. But reports suggest that he is set to go, although the manager is likely to start the national icon, Eden Hazard, despite a not-so-promising recent form.
Michy Batshuayi of Fenerbahce is the favourite to start in the absence of Lukaku, as was also hinted in some of the questions asked during Canada’s pre-match press conference. Thorgan, the younger of the Hazards, has some injury concerns and Yannick Carrasco is likely to start instead of him in the midfield. Zeno Debast, the young centre-back, also provides a promising option for the manager if Canada’s pace begins to cause the veteran centre-backs problems mid-game.
Unlike their high-rated opponents, the North American side are free of injury concerns, with coach John Herdman stating that all the 26 players are fit and available for Wednesday night’s game. Star player Alphonso Davies caused a scare in the camp as he suffered a hamstring injury two weeks back, but has recovered at an amazing pace and is fit for the game.
Canada has enough players who play in Europe to be not completely awestruck against the Belgian star lineup. Striker Jonathan David, who plays for Ligue 1 side Lille, is more than capable of getting at the end of the balls coming from the pacy wingers. The other two in the attack, Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan are teammates for the Belgian league side Club Brugge, and are not total strangers to their opponents.
The midfield is a perfect blend of both experience and youth. Skipper Atiba Hutchinson, who is set for his 99th cap for the country, will provide a sense of calm in the middle of the park, while the likes of Phonsie and MLS player Laryea will look forward to playing dash with the Belgium backline which is considered to be the slowest in the league.
The Canadian defensive line is not much to speak of, but has held a decent recent record. They have kept 7 clean sheets in the final stages of the qualifying rounds where the team ended up at the top of their group in the CONCACAF region. But going against the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Hazard is going to be a totally different ball game.
There is no doubt that the Red Devils are huge favourites to come out successful out of this meetup. A lineup featuring multiple Premier League and La Liga players outweighs the Canadians on paper by far. It will be interesting to see how the Canadian defence deals with the clever balls played in between the lines by De Bryune as Hazard and Batshuayi have enough experience to make the right kind of runs.
The key for the Canadian team to hold their ground in the game is to have multiple game plans. The Belgians are good at more than one thing as they have world class dribblers and players who can score screamers from outside the box. This is not to say that playing a passive sitting-back game is the way to go. The likes of Alphonso Davies have got some serious pace under the belt to catch the Europeans on the counter and also cause all kinds of problems down the wings in open play.
The mentality of the teams is also going to be a crucial factor in the outcome of the game. The Canadians will obviously have huge respect for their opponents, who are 2nd in the world in ranking, but not too much. They have to be in the face of the players, going in and making brave tackles and even cheap fouls if necessary, if that is what it takes to disrupt their rhythm. The way the Saudis played against Argentina is a good blueprint to study how to approach the game as underdogs.
Belgium, on the other hand, will be looking to get the job done in the first half. However, it is important to be not too complacent and watch the runs on the wings and behind the back of the defensive line. Also, one thing Canada has demonstrated amazing ability is winning the ball high up the field, something that they exhibited over and over again in their friendly win against Japan. It is going to be hard to put the same theory to effect in Wednesday’s game as they face a much more experienced lineup who are extremely calm on the ball.
In a nutshell, the game is going to be an entertaining one with Belgium likely to come out on top. But Canada has the quality to make headlines with the second-biggest upset in the tournament if Belgium doesn’t get things right in the defence.
Premier League Players to look out for
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
The most obvious name to come on the list. KDB has been arguably the best midfielder in the league post 2010 and makes up a huge part of Belgium’s golden generation. Apart from his well-known world-class technical ability, he also has the right mentality to remain calm under pressure, like the performance he put up in the league winning match against Villa last season. He will be crucial to Belgium from a leadership role too as they look forward to putting an end to their bad luck in big competitions
Leandro Trossard (Belgium)
Trossard has improved massively this season as he has been putting up numbers for Brighton in the league. He already has 9 goals contributions this season with 7 goals and 2 assists. He is also a big game player and showed this in his amazing hat trick display at Anfield. Trossard is also versatile in positioning as he has shown his ability in wide areas too, giving Martinez more options.
Youri Tielemans (Belgium)
Tielemans is another big name from the Premier League, coming from Leicester. Although the team isn’t having the best season, he is doing okay for himself. With 4 goals contributions so far, he has got on the scoresheet 3 times in less than half the games as last season when he ended up scoring 6. He will be a threat for Belgium in the midfield as he is well adjusted to the speed of play at the highest of levels.
Leander Dendoncker (Belgium)
The Belgian right-back plays for Aston Villa in the league. He made a total of 13 appearances for Villa this season. Although not a clear favourite for Villa, he is one as far as Belgian manager Roberto Martinez is concerned.
Belgium predicted lineup vs Canada: Courtois, Dendoncker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Carrasco, Witsel, Tielemans, Meunier, De Bruyne, Hazard, Batshuayi.
Canada predicted lineup vs Belgium: Borjan, Miller, Vitoria, Johnston, Davies, Eustaquio, Hutchinson, Laryea, Larin, David, Buchanan.