2018 World Cup bronze medallists Belgium face a history-making Canada side on Wednesday evening.
Eight members of Roberto Martinez’s squad will be traveling to their third World Cup. Canada’s captain Atiba Hutchinson is the only member of John Herdman’s setup that was even alive the last time the Canucks featured at a World Cup (at three years old in 1986, he didn’t quite cut it).
Here’s everything you need to know about the meeting between two teams with wildly contrasting tournament experiences.
Belgium Team News
Thomas Meunier missed Borussia Dortmunds final five Bundesliga matches before joining the Belgian squad with a fractured cheekbone. The 31-year-old has been able to take part in training with a protective, eery cream mask which he acknowledged when tweeting: “Michael Myers is back. Start fearing!”
Romelu Lukaku has played less than half an hour of football for Inter since August after sustaining a pair of hamstring injuries in quick succession.
Roberto Martinez included Belgium’s all-time top scorer in his squad but was vague over his involvement in the coming weeks, offering: “We’ve worked well with the medical staff of Inter and we hope that he’ll have a good World Cup.”
It subsequently emerged that Lukaku is unlikely to feature in Belgium’s first two games.
Canada’s first World Cup game in the 21st century is against Belgium. Belgium finished third in the previous World Cup.
Up until recently, Belgium was sitting in the no.1 place in the FIFA World Rankings, which explains just how strong this team is. It also explains why Belgium is seen as a huge favorite against Canada on Wednesday. Roberto Martinez’s boys are priced at -200, but the odds were even shorter only a few days ago.
The reason behind the odds move is that the bettors have realized the CanMNT is a force to be reckoned with. We all know the Canadians can be very good on the pitch, but will they be good enough on Wednesday to snatch a point(s) off Belgium?
One may argue that the Belgium national soccer team has more superstars on the roster than any other team competing in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Real Madrid’s forward Eden Hazard is their captain.
The vice-captain is Jan Vertonghen, an ex-Tottenham player who’s now playing for Anderlecht. The third captain is Manchester City’s midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who’s widely considered the best playmaker on the planet. Further, the man between the posts is Thibaut Courtois, the recipient of the 2022 Lav Yashin Trophy – the award for the best goalkeeper in the world.
The trouble is that all of these guys are over 30. Belgium’s projected starting XI against Qatar has seven players who are above 30. The other four aren’t much younger either. Romelu Lukaku, for instance, is 29.
Knowing all this, one may assume that Belgium players are past their prime. They might be, but they do have the experience needed to do well in big tournaments. That said, we expect them to do very well against Canada.
Belgium predicted lineup vs Canada
Belgium Starting 11 (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Dendoncker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Meunier, Witsel, Tielemans, Carrasco; De Bruyne, E Hazard; Batshuayi.
Bench: Mignolet, Casteels, Theate, Faes, Debast, Hazard, Onana, Vanaken, Castagne, Mertens, Trossard, De Ketelaere, Openda, Doku.
Canada Team News
Canada’s major injury concern is also the team’s best player. Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies picked up a hamstring problem while playing for the Bavarians at the start of November. The 22-year-old missed both of his country’s pre-World Cup friendlies, leaving his availability this Wednesday in doubt.
Canada’s captain Atiba Hutchinson is turning 40 in February. However, he’s got plenty of younger teammates who are expected to do all the hard work.
The best example is Canada’s biggest star Alphonso Davies, whose job in Qatar will be to cover the entire left side of the pitch. In Bayern, his role is the left-back, but with the CanMNT, he is more of an attacking-minded winger.
Jonathan David is another player whose job is going to be to create goal chances, and the same goes for Canada’s all-time top scorer, Cyle Larin. With these guys in the top three, Canada does stand a good chance of scoring against Belgium. The big question is whether the CanMNT can outscore the Red Devils.
Canada predicted lineup vs Belgium
Canada Starting 11 (3-4-3): Borjan; Johnston, Vitoria, Miller; Laryea, Eustaquio, Hutchinson, Adekugbe; Buchanan, Larin, David.
Bench: St. Clair, Pantemis, Cornelius, Waterman, Piette, Fraser, Hoilett, Kaye, Kone, Osorio, Millar, Wotherspoon, Cavallini, Ugbo.
Belgium vs Canada Score Prediction
Canada is one of five nations to have featured at a World Cup but never scored. Herdman’s fleet-footed frontline may be able to break the team’s drought if they can exploit the immobility of Belgium’s aging and advanced center-backs.
However, even though Belgium is defensively fallible, it would be an almighty shock if Canada can get a result against a nation ranked second in the world. As the Durham-born Herdman admitted ahead of the tournament: “We’ll be a genuine underdog in every single game.”
Prediction: Belgium 3-1 Canada