World Cup 2022: What Canada learned from Belgium’s defeat ahead of the all-important Croatia match

DOHA, Qatar — Even after a night’s sleep, it’s still ridiculous that Canada’s men’s national team faced Belgium in their first World Cup match in 36 years.

It’s even more immeasurable that it almost paid off. Canada beat Belgium 22-9, and she produced 1.82 expected goals without penalties (xG) against Belgium’s 0.76, placing them in second place.

But the only stat that matters is the score in Belgium’s 1-0 win on Wednesday.

Group F remains open after Morocco and Croatia draw 0-0, but Canada cannot afford to lose another match if they have any hopes of reaching the knockout stage.

With Sunday’s pivotal match against Croatia looming, here’s a detailed statistical and tactical breakdown of Canada’s loss, and what you can apply to your next game.

behind the numbers

The xG disagreement made headlines on social media after the game, and for good reason.

Even with the penalties removed, Canada made enough to deserve an equalizer in open play. Expected Threat (xThreat) also ruled in favor of Canada.

xThreat has a great description, but at its core, it’s a metric used to evaluate actions that increase your chances of scoring. To give an example, if a player completed a pass and moved the ball from a place where his team was less likely to score to a place where his team was more likely to score, that player increased his xThreat for his team. It will be. However, in the opposite case, xThreat has decreased.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin De Bruyne led all players in xThreat with 0.57. Stephen Eustaquio is Canada’s top producer, with Junior Hoilett, Alistair Johnston and Richie Laryea produced exclusively in open play.

But a little closer look at Canada’s xG map didn’t give much of a clear-cut chance. The only clear chances came from Tajon Buchanan (half stoppage time) and Jonathan David (31′).

Canada averaged about 0.09 xG per shot during World Cup qualifiers. Excluding penalties, Wednesday scored about 0.086 xG per shot. Les Rouges However, Concacaf was usually better in terms of overall quality. They certainly didn’t face this level of world-class talent on a regular basis.

“It’s the difference when you have a Real Madrid goalkeeper,” said Canada manager John Hardman after the game. “Then they have people like [Jan] Vertonghen, [Toby] Alderweireld, [Leander] Dendonkers, guys with a lot of experience in and around the penalty area. It’s not easy to score goals in this World Cup. ”

20/20 Hindsight

It’s easy to sit here and look back on the match with the benefit of hindsight. But for Canada to learn another valuable lesson, it needs to face the facts.

The plan itself was almost perfect. It just didn’t work.

David’s chance in the 31st minute encapsulated this perfectly. He received the ball in space in the box and had Laryea. width Opened to the right, but chose to shoot in front of a sea of ​​Belgian defenders.

“There were times when I thought I had one too many passes around the box,” Hardman said. “He talked about pulling the trigger, which is one thing he learned from Uruguay. [in September] They were great against Japan. ”

Then, in the second half, Cyril Larin had a great chance to take the first shot from an assist by Tajon Buchanan, but hesitated, touched and lost the ball.

David and Larin successfully jumped into the area to be filmed. However, those are the moments when a clearer head could have won. The Belgian defense is also credited with him scoring eight blocks.

As Hardman pointed out, the team learned from Uruguay and applied it to their match against Japan on November 17.


Despite the warnings, no one expected Hardmann to outright beat Marcelo Bielsa in Belgium.

When Belgium faced the Netherlands in September’s UEFA Nations League match, the Netherlands set up 5-2-3 off-the-ball each time the Belgians built from behind with goal kicks.

Holland opted for the occasional high press. Canada’s was much more aggressive.

Hardman lined up at the front three alongside Tajon Buchanan, Junior Hoilett and Jonathan David, moving Alphonso Davies to left-back for the national team for the first time since 2019. Probably to keep Davis from exhausting himself in his hamstring comeback.

Additionally, unlike the Netherlands in September, Canada used three forwards to man-mark each Belgian defender each time he received a goal kick, lateral or backwards pass.

Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustakio formed a double pivot in midfield and were essential to the functioning of the strategy.

Eustaquio pushed up to cover the central area and prevented De Bruyne and Youri Thielemans (or anyone else) from falling deep to receive an exit from the Belgian defense. Leading all Canadian players in defensive duels.

But when Eustakio and Hutchinson weren’t in the middle, problems started to arise. A man-marking from Canada saw Belgium begin to move closer to the touchline, trailing the Canadian midfielder and opening up space in the center for De Bruyne to turn and counter.

This matched Canada’s Passes Per Defensive Action Allowed (PPDA), a strong indicator of a team’s pressing aggressiveness, which increased from 9.3 in the 30th minute to 47 in the last 15 minutes.

Belgium then launched more counterattack opportunities. The likes of Alistair Johnston and Kamal Miller were forced to push up to cover the open space.

“We actually had more space in the second half when we started pressing in midfield,” analyzed De Bruyne. “I think the way you have to get past the press is to attract them in a way that you can draw them out on short plays. [off goal kicks] then you have to cross [Canadian] line. “

Ultimately, Belgium capitalized thanks to air combat, the Achilles heel of two-thirds of Canada’s defense. Michy Batshuayi just before half time he scored on a long ball for Alderweireld and Hazard got a great chance about 15 minutes ago when he burned Johnston with his pass over the top of him.


Ultimately, we can draw two conclusions depending on the person’s point of view.

A glass half-full takeaway means Canada played fearlessly and nearly upset the world’s second-ranked team.

Canada weren’t ruthless enough in front of goal if the glass was half empty. Moreover, without his last two tackles on Miller and Laria, Belgium could have doubled or even tripled their advantage.

However, Canada creating some set-piece chances, as they did against Japan, and adding another body to the midfield against the excellent Croatian midfield could ease the defensive burden.

“The covers are off,” Herdmann declared. “The team will know what we do and how we do business.

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World Cup 2022: What Canada learned from Belgium’s defeat ahead of the all-important Croatia match

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