For Belgium, this represents the final chance for a lot of their ‘Golden Generation’ to win a major tournament.
When is Belgium vs Canada?
The match will kick off at 7pm GMT on Wendesday 23 November at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
|Photo: Khei Now
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez is also now under pressure to produce for the nation, as defeats in Euro 2020 and the previous Nations League’s finals have caused discontent among supporters.
They qualified with consummate ease once again during UEFA qualifying, averaging over three goals per game, but they often underperform when it really matters at major tournaments, such as their defeat against Italy in last summer’s European Championships.
Martinez has been accused of not knowing how to win, especially following their Nations League elimination to France, where they lost to a late Theo Hernandez strike after being 2-0 up.
Losing home and away to neighbours Netherlands recently did not go down well either, plus a defeat to Egypt in a warm-up friendly means they have lost back-to-back games, and they have not lost three on the spin since 2014.
There is no doubting the talent they have going forward though, fronted by Manchester City maestro Kevin De Bruyne.
Sixteen goals at the 2018 World Cup saw them top the scoring charts as a nation, as Martinez’s style of play accommodates attacking talent very well, with his time at Everton proving this too, as Romelu Lukaku kickstarted his career under the management of Martinez in the Premier League.
However, Lukaku’s injury troubles mean that Martinez will need to choose an alternative up front, and Michy Batshuayi’s form in Turkey has been impressive this season in addition to his excellent scoring stats for Belgium, as the ex-Chelsea man has a record better than one goal every two games for his country.
While the mood in the Belgian camp may not be the best at the moment, spirits could not be any higher in the Canadian squad under John Herdman.
They scored the most goals and conceded the fewest as the Maple Leafs topped the final section of qualification in the CONCACAF region ahead of Mexico and the USA.
For a largely young and inexperienced squad at this level, Canada can use this tournament as a free hit in their preparation for the 2026 World Cup on home soil.
While the big names in the squad all come in attack, building a solid defence has been crucial to Canada’s improvement over the past four-year cycle, as they kept seven clean sheets during the final stage, not conceding more than once in any game.
However, Canada’s away form is a cause for concern, as they won just two of their seven matches on the road in qualifying, and lost away in Honduras in their last competitive fixture in the CONCACAF Nations League.
Attacking duo Jonathan David and Cyle Larin did not start in that game, so Herdman will hope it was merely a blip, but their results outside of Canada do not look promising right now.
Their only previous finals appearance came in 1986, when they lost all three games without scoring, but with a much better squad this time around, they will be confident of improving on that despite a very challenging group on paper.
Belgium vs Canada Prediction
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It will be interesting to see what lineup Roberto Martinez picks for Belgium. He has previously shown a preference to play a three-man backline. Given that the combined age of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, two regular features in the defense for Belgium, is 68, it makes sense to stick to that defensive strategy.
There have been calls for Leandro Trossard to start ahead of Eden Hazard in attack, and for obvious reasons. However, Trossard has previously shown that he can play as a wing-back at club level, and it would not be surprising to see the 27-year-old shoehorned into the side to capitalize on his excellent form.
Canada, on the other hand, are building a side that revolves around young stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David. Multiple Canadian internationals play for European sides, including Stephen Eustaquio and Cyle Larin.
We expect Belgium to win this game.
Prediction: Belgium 2-1 Canada
The big concern in Belgium has surrounded the fitness of Lukaku in the build up to the tournament, and the Inter Milan man will not feature in this group opener, so Batshuayi is the likely starter, but Lois Openda is also in contention to appear.
After being one of their standout performers at Euro 2020, Thorgan Hazard has also dealt with injury problems over the last year, so Timothy Castagne or Yannick Carrasco may take his place at left wing-back.
Thorgan’s brother Eden Hazard is a favourite of Martinez’s despite his lack of game time at Real Madrid and will probably start on the left-hand side of a three-pronged attack.
While Martinez has been criticised for continuing to pick ageing players, teenage centre-back Zeno Debast looks set to start after Dedryck Boyata and Jason Denayer missed out on the squad.
Captain Atiba Hutchinson should win his 99th cap for Canada, making his first major tournament appearance almost 20 years after his debut.
Star player Alphonso Davies suffered a hamstring injury with Bayern Munich two weeks ago and is extremely doubtful for this encounter.
That is a huge blow for Herdman, as Davies is not only their main man, but is integral to how they may set up, given his versatility in being able to play full-back, wing-back, on the wing or as a number 10.
The majority of Canada’s expected starting XI play in Europe, so this Belgian test will be nothing new for many of them, while Larin and Tajon Buchanan play in Belgium for Club Brugge.
Belgium possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Debast; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Castagne; De Bruyne, Batshuayi, E Hazard
Canada possible starting lineup:
Borjan; Laryea, Johnston, Steven Vitoria, K Miller, Adekugbe; Buchanan, Hutchinson, Eustaquio; David, Larin