Thirty-six years, 36 years, three decades and the best part of one… that’s how long we’ve waited for Canada to qualify for the World Cup again but it’s going to be baptism of fire.
While they’ve faced Belgium only once before, certainly not at this level. At the same time, the Red Devils of Belgium are considered the favourites to beat our Rouges.
Tonight will show the rest of the world just how far Canada has come in international soccer and perhaps what still needs to be learned.
Canada is a team of talent gathered from high level European club football to the ever-growing US Major League Soccer, many of whom are highly capped for their appearances in the Gold Cup, previous World Cup Qualifiers and Friendlies. Some are entirely new to the squad this year.
Belgium will be a formidable opponent tonight. Let’s look at what makes them that.
One of the major advantages which Belgium brings to the field is their international experience. Not only have they shown themselves capable at the World Cup, they also have the opportunity to compete in the European Cup, facing countries like Germany, France or smaller nations like the Faroe Islands or Israel.
The 2018 World Cup saw them finish Third after being knocked out by the defending Champions France, at the Semi-Finals. At the 2020 Euros, they were kicked out by Italy at the Quarter Finals.
In addition to their experience, they also boast a depth of talent among their 26.
We’ve got players like midfielder Kevin DeBruyne. DeBruyne is a scary prospect in midfield. Not only is he well known for playmaking (setting up shots), but he’s also not that bad at scoring them either. For the senior team alone, he’s score 25.
Eden Hazard – then there’s Eden Hazard. Belgium’s very own ‘little Messi’, could be a metaphorical nightmare for Canada’s defence tonight. He’s appeared over 120 times for the national team, most recently captaining the team in the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 tournaments.
He has a strong technical range and creativity on the field, largely playing in attacking midfield or on the wing.
No Lukaku tonight
There is a glimmer of hope for Canada tonight. There’s no Romelu Lukaku in this game. The Inter Milan player will not play in tonight’s game due to a hamstring injury picked up during club duty.
Why would he be a threat you say? He’s a lefty with a powerful presence on the pitch and capable of getting around defenders. He strikes deep on goal and can also dominate the wing. As of 2018, Lukaku became Belgium’s top goal-scorer with 68 goals in international games.
That takes one of Belgium’s arrows off the shelf and a record goalscorer won’t be testing the clean sheet Canada will be trying to keep.
Belgium has had a very changeable performance leading up to the World Cup. If we start with Nations League, Belgium won 3 and drew 1 game in their 6 Nations League games earlier this season. What’s significant is that they just couldn’t get past the Netherlands in both leg games. They lost 4 – 1 in the first and 1 – 0 in the second.
What is also surprising is the lost against Egypt in the World Cup Warmup last Thursday. That was a 2 – 1 loss.
Davies can play
Canada’s significant injury concerns appear to have passed and we now know that Davies will play in tonight’s game. The coach had voiced concerns about his injury prior to the game but he will be joined by Stephen Eustaquio and Milan Borjan in goal.
Despite the very late appearance of the coach to their press conference ahead of tonight’s game, John Herdman told the media, ‘The dark clouds have shifted,’
Tonight… Tonight will be history for Canada. Whether they score or if they draw, even if they lose, they will make history for making it back to the international stage.
Tonight they need to be flexible and they need to be alert. Even without Lukaku, there are no shortages of goal-scorers in Belgium.
While Davies and David (if he plays) will be crucial to Canada’s taking the lead, every section of Canada’s lines need to watch the Red Devils.
Canada will make history tonight, but can they make the past 36 years ancient history?