If football fans in Canada needed another reason to believe that the Canadian Men’s National Team could turn some heads at the World Cup next week, they got one in the form of Belgium, their matchday one opponent, falling to Egypt in a friendly. A final score of 2-1 was not what people were expecting, especially considering the strongest pieces of the Belgian squad did play.
The first Egyptian goal came courtesy of Mostafa Mohamed, who took a shot after picking off a careless pass from Kevin De Bruyne. A second marker came just seconds after the ball got rolling for the second half, as a long ball found Trézéguet, who put it past Thibaut Courtois, and into the Belgian goal. Belgium would get one back later in the game, however, thanks to Loïs Openda, who finished off a cross from Yannick Carrasco.
If you looked only at the stats, you would likely think Belgium out-classed the Egyptians, especially when it comes to the possession stat. The Belgians possessed the ball 68 percent of the time, completing 92 percent of their 707 passes. A misleading stat to be certain, considering the Belgians only out-shot the Belgians 8-6, but shots on target are a real area of discrepancy. The Egyptians finished the game with five shots, whereas Belgium had just two.
If there’s one pitfall this game can not cause for the Canadians, it’s having a false sense of security that Belgium is no longer a powerhouse in world football. Here’s the reality; they still are, and a single loss isn’t going to change that. Sure, their team is aging, and they may not be at the top of the FIFA rankings for too much longer, but where they rank when the World Cup is hosted in Canada doesn’t matter, they are still giants in this game.
What this game should do for Canada, however, is give them a little bit more belief. Canada comes into the World Cup ranked 41st, and Egypt, who won’t get to compete on the world’s biggest stage, is ranked just two places better, in 39th. Especially coming off the back of a huge 2-1 win over Japan on Thursday, Canadian confidence would be high, but after seeing their first World Cup opponent fall to a team ranked similarly to them, a boost to a critical element; belief.
The good news for the Canadians is how the Egyptians managed to beat the Belgians. They sat back, and dared Belgium to attack, and when they did, they forced turnovers, and played on the counterattack with pace, easily scooting past the Belgian’s aging back line. This is the exact kind of thing the young Canadian squad should be capable of, especially if Alphonso Davies is ready to go, although that is still a question without a certain answer.
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Assuming Canada has both Davies and Stephen Eustáquio available, and their preferred starting 11 (quite possibly including Junior Hoilett with his recent form), Canada would have the top-end talent to pull off the massive upset, but it won’t be easy. A lot would still have to go right.
Remember that pitfall mentioned earlier? Here’s where that comes into play. The Belgians are still an elite squad, boasting some of the best players in all of Europe, and… oh right, they are still ranked second in the world. Saying “a lot would have to go right” is probably an understatement, and it’s important to note that Belgium performed really poorly in their friendly against Egypt.
So I’m suggesting Canada has no chance unless Belgium has a poor game? Not quite, but kind of. The difference here is that, yes, Belgium needs to make mistakes for Canada to steal a result, but the Canadians shouldn’t wait for those mistakes to happen. It’s likely that Canada will play much like the Egyptians did and dare Belgium to attack, but in doing so, the Canadians need to force errors, and when they do, they need to be clinical in front of goal, and score on their chances.
Yup, that’s it. Canada needs to score when they have chances, and limit the chances Belgium has. You’re probably thinking to yourself right now, “wow, this guy is an absolute genius,” but it’s that easy. Still, the biggest element is one mentioned earlier; belief. A team who believes in itself is dangerous, and there’s no chance the players didn’t take notice of the 2-1 result. The outline is there, the belief is there, and now it’s just about executing the game plan.
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