MAIN TALKING POINTS
Long-suffering fans of the Canadian men’s team waited 13,316 days for the side to have another chance to score its first goal at the World Cup after the side suffered three shutout losses in its tournament debut in 1986 in Mexico. Those supporters will have to wait at least a few more days for the goal drought to end after Canada suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss in Group F on Wednesday. If three points were handed out for moral victories instead of actual ones, the Canadians would be sitting atop the table right now.
But soccer can be a cruel, unforgiving sport. It often rewards those teams who possess the killer instinct over the ones who don’t. Such was the case at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan where the Canadians, No. 41 in the current FIFA world rankings, completely bossed the second-ranked Belgians and forced them onto the back foot for most of the match.
Alphonso Davies should have given Canada a lead in the 11th minute when he stepped to the 12-yard spot after Belgium’s Yannick Carrasco was called for a hand ball following a VAR review. Instead, the Bayern Munich star’s poor penalty attempt was saved by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before the rebound was cleared out of danger. That was the moment. Had Canada scored that early after storming out of the gate and putting Belgium on the rack, the Europeans would’ve been in big trouble.
Instead, the Red Devils kept their composure, rode their luck as Canada wasted several scoring chances, and then capitalized right before halftime when their opponents briefly shut off. Canadian defender Steven Vitória didn’t deal with a long ball played by Belgium’s Toby Alderweireld from inside his half, and teammate Michy Batshuayi was able to run onto the end of it before sweeping it past Milan Borjan.
The second half played out in a similar fashion, with Canada continually knocking on the door rather than busting it down. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David lacked the extra bit of class required inside the 18-yard box to finish off the quality scoring chances that presented themselves to the Canadian forwards.
After the final whistle blew, coach John Herdman gathered the entire team on the pitch and delivered what must’ve been an impassioned pep talk. Canada was better on the day, but it had nothing to show for it. Now, Herdman must use all of his managerial acumen and motivational skills to get his players to put this result behind them. An equally tough test vs. No. 12 Croatia looms on Sunday.
Germany loses in another big upset
It wasn’t nearly on the same level as Saudi Arabia upsetting Argentina on Tuesday, but Japan’s come-from-behind victory over Germany in Group E certainly ranks as a shocker. Germany had not lost a World Cup game in which it led at halftime since a 3-2 setback to Austria in 1978, having gone unbeaten in its last 21 matches when ahead after 45 minutes.
Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano came off the bench to score just seven minutes apart, helping Japan turn the game completely on its head after Ilkay Gündogan had given the four-time World Cup champions the lead when he converted a penalty in the first half.
The Germans outplayed their counterparts for long stretches of the match and ended up dominating from a statistical standpoint with a 26-12 edge on total shots, 74 per cent possession and having completed nearly three times as many passes.
But Germany couldn’t put away Japan when it had the chance, wasting several qualify scoring opportunities and being repelled by goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda who made a string of solid saves. The Japanese, on the other hand, proved to be positively ruthless with their limited chances, and took the game to the Germans after manager Hajime Moriyasu brought on his substitutes and made an important tactical change to a wider three-man back line.
GOAL OF THE DAY
With the game tied 1-1, Kou Itakura played a free kick from inside his half that released teammate Takuma Asano on goal. Asano, who plays in the German Bundesliga with VfL Bochum, burst into the box and while fending off defender Nico Schlotterbeck fired a power shot from a narrow angle that beat goalkeeper Manuel Neuer into the roof of the net.
MOMENT OF THE DAY
Watching Canadian men’s team players singing ‘O Canada’ at the World Cup for the first time since 1986 was a sight to behold.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We wanted to use our captain’s armband to take a stand for values that we hold in the Germany national team: diversity and mutual respect. Together with other nations, we wanted our voice to be heard.” – German Football Association statement on why Germany’s players covered their mouths for its team photo before the Japan game in response to FIFA clamping down on players who want to wear armbands to protest discrimination in Qatar.
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Canada’s John Herdman is the first person to coach teams at both the men’s and women’s World Cup. He previously took charge of New Zealand and Canada at the women’s World Cup.
• At 39 years old, Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson is the second-oldest outfield player (non-goalkeeper) to play in a World Cup match (behind Cameroon’s Roger Milla, who was 42 in 1994), and the oldest starter.
• Croatia’s Luka Modric is the first player to play in both the European Championship and World Cup in three different decades.
• Germany’s Mario Götze was back on the pitch at the World Cup for the first time since scoring the winner in the 2014 final, a gap of 3,055 days.
• For the first time ever, Spain had two teenagers in its starting lineup for a World Cup: Pedri Gonzalez, 19, and Pablo Gavi, 18.
• Spain has now scored 106 goals at the World Cup, making it the sixth nation in the tournament’s history to reach this milestone, after Brazil (229), Germany (227), Argentina (138), Italy (128) and France (124).
Stats courtesy of Opta
SPORTSNET IN QATAR
Sportsnet.ca contributor Peter Galindo is in Qatar covering the World Cup. He was at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan for the Canada-Belgium match:
THREE STARS OF THE DAY
1) Ferran Torres, Spain: The Barcelona star bagged a brace for Spain, as it scored four goals in a World Cup game since a 4-0 win over Ukraine in 2006.
2) Kamal Miller, Canada: The CF Montreal centre back was immense as he brilliantly quarterbacked a Canadian defence that gave away very little against Belgium.
3) Sofyan Amrabat, Morocco: He was outstanding in midfield for the African nation, breaking up Croatia’s attacking sequences and expertly protecting his back line.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THURSDAY
There are four more games on Thursday with the two marquee matches being Portugal vs. Ghana (11:00 a.m. ET) and Brazil vs. Serbia (2:00 p.m. ET). Cristiano Ronaldo, who has seven World Cup goals in 17 games, will try to become the first player in history to score at five World Cups. The Brazilians are considered the top favourites coming into this tournament, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can hit the ground running and get a result vs. the Serbians.
John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.