Kickoff: November 24, 12:30 AM IST
Venue: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium
Canada are set to end their 36-year wait to play in their second World Cup with a Wednesday night encounter with Belgium.
From Belgium’s perspective, this could be the final chance for their golden generation to lead the nation to their first-ever World Cup title. So, they will be eager to start the campaign with a convincing win against the Canadians.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has been feeling the heat following Belgium’s poor performances in Euro 2020 and the UEFA Nations League.
The Red Devils bowed out of the Euro 2020 quarterfinals before failing to make it to the Nations League finals.
Belgium made it to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, but it was not enough to meet the expectations of their fans, who believe this squad is capable of doing better.
Belgium have a squad rich with world-class talents, but their recent form does not reflect the quality of their squad. They enter the fray with two back-to-back defeats, the latest of which came against Egypt.
So, Roberto Martinez’s men will be desperate to arrest the slump and return to winning ways when they play Canada in their first match of the Qatar World Cup.
Canadians, on the other hand, are on top of the world at the moment. Qualifying for the World Cup finals was a great achievement for John Herdman’s men, considering they have been trying to return to the competition for four decades.
Canada are one of the co-hosts in the 2026 World Cup, so their involvement in the next edition of the tournament is a certainty.
They face an uphill battle of surviving a group that has two European heavyweights in Croatia and Belgium and a formidable African opposition in Morocco. But they have a youthful squad that can upset the applecart in group F.
Canada finished the CONCACAF qualification stage as the table toppers.
But what will concern the Maple Leaves are their poor form on the road. Canada relied on their solid home form in the qualifiers to confirm their spot in the World Cup finals. However, they had managed to win only two of their seven away matches.
Canada played four warm-up matches before the group stages went underway.
They lost to Uruguay, drew with Bahrain and beat Japan and Qatar. So, they will not be short on confidence ahead of the Belgium game.
Romelu Lukaku is Roberto Martinez’s go-to striker, but the Canada match will come too soon for the injured number nine.
Therefore, Martinez will turn to Michy Batshuayi, who has been enjoying a prolific run of form for Fenerbahçe. Loïs Openda is also an option for Martinez, but Batshuayi is expected to get the nod.
Thorgan Hazard has lived under the shadow of his elder brother Eden Hazard throughout his career, but the Borussia Dortmund man was one of the Belgium’s best performers in the Euros. But he will have to sit out Belgium’s opener due to injury.
Timothy Castagne and Yannick Carrasco will compete for his spot at left-back.
Eden Hazard will start in the front three for Belgium. The forward has been injury free this season but Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti did not give him much game time.
Hazard will hope to redeem himself with a great World Cup campaign with Belgium. 19 year-old Zeno Debast is expected to feature in the Belgian rearguard.
Atiba Hutchinson will make his 99th appearance for Canada as he will lead the Maple Leafs out of the tunnel.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies overcame the injury scare to travel with the Canadian squad to Canada. However, he is not likely be involved in the Belgium game.
Canada have excellent quality both in attack and defence. But their inexperience at the global stage combined with their poor form outside Canada will play to Belgium’s advantage.
We say, Belgium 2-1 Canada.