Canada lost its World Cup opener — but it won respect

CBC Sports' daily newsletter delivers the takeaways from Canada's first World Cup match in 36 years, which resulted in a heartbreaking yet heartening defeat to second-ranked Belgium.

Underdogs outplayed 2nd-ranked Belgium in 1-0 loss

Alphonso Davies and his Canadian teammates gave second-ranked Belgium all they could handle in their World Cup opener. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

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Canada's 36-year wait between men's World Cup matches ended today with a heartbreaking/heartening 1-0 loss to world No. 2 Belgium. Despite being ranked 39 spots lower, the Canadians looked like the better team for the bulk of the entertaining match. But Alphonso Davies was stopped on an early penalty kick, Belgium's Michy Batshuayi scored off a long aerial delivery just before halftime and the favourites held on for the one-goal win.

Here are some more takeaways from the match and the rest of today's World Cup action, including another stunning upset of a world soccer power:

Canada belongs here. Any team making its first World Cup appearance in nearly two generations is going to be greeted with a raised eyebrow. The Canadian men certainly seemed worthy after topping their regional qualifying tournament, but no one really knew how they'd hold up on sports' biggest stage. That question was answered within moments of the opening kickoff as Canada immediately took the fight to Belgium and generated several quality scoring chances. It was no flash in the pan, either, as the Canadians kept the field tilted in their favour for most of the night, created scoring opportunities right up until the final whistle and finished with a 22-9 advantage in shots taken. In short, it was a valiant defeat. Belgium's No. 2 world ranking is dubious (the aging squad is near the bottom end of the top 10 in the betting odds to win the tournament) and they were missing injured star forward Romelu Lukaku, but they're still among the better teams on the planet. And Canada took it to 'em. "I'm proud of this performance. These lads put a shift in," coach John Herdman said after the match. "They belong here."

The other waits go on. After losing all three of its matches in 1986 and failing to score, Canada is still looking for its first-ever men's World Cup points and first goal. Of all the excellent scoring opportunities vs. Belgium, the best was Davies' penalty kick in the 10th minute, awarded after a video review determined Belgium had committed a hand ball near its own net. But Davies' poor attempt, along the ground and weak, was stopped pretty easily by 6-foot-6 Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Some Canadian fans are questioning why forward Jonathan David — a more accomplished scorer who's near the top of the French league in goals — was not chosen to step up for the kick.

Davies seems alright. That soft penalty kick notwithstanding, Canada's best player did not appear hampered by the hamstring injury that had kept him sidelined for the past few weeks. Though Davies didn't unfurl any of his signature long runs, he put plenty of pressure on Belgium with his dazzling footwork with the ball in tight spaces and played the entire match. Key midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who's been dealing with his own (unspecified) injury, looked good too before being subbed out in the 81st minute.

Next for Canada: Another tough matchup awaits Sunday at 11 a.m. vs. Croatia. The 2018 World Cup finalists are ranked 12th in the world and still anchored by tireless midfielder Luka Modric, who won the Golden Ball as MVP of the '18 tournament. Modric is 37 now, but still playing at a high level for his club (Real Madrid) and country. Croatia got off to a slow start today, settling for a 0-0 draw with Morocco. The 22nd-ranked Moroccans could be a handful in this group after going undefeated in African qualifying (seven wins, one draw). Canada faces them next Thursday to close the Group F slate.

WATCH | Canadians react to loss against Belgium:

Belgium beats Canada 1-0 in its first game of FIFA men's World Cup

2 months ago
Duration 13:32
Canada put on a show in its return to the men's World Cup after a 36-year absence but failed to convert its chances in a valiant 1-0 loss to Belgium on Wednesday in Doha, Qatar.

Today's other World Cup results:

*Another shocker! A day after Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, Japan came back to stun four-time champion Germany 2-1 with a pair of late second-half goals. Before kickoff, the entire German starting 11 covered their mouths while posing for the traditional pre-match photo. The team confirmed that the gesture was a rebuke of FIFA's clampdown on wearing armbands to protest discrimination in host Qatar, saying in a tweet that "denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice" and that "human rights are non-negotiable."

*After Japan's upset of Germany, Spain restored some normalcy by eviscerating Costa Rica 7-0La Roja are relatively green (maestro midfielder Sergio Busquets is the only player left from the team that won the 2010 World Cup) but still talented enough that the betting markets had them a top-five favourite to hoist the trophy going into this match.

*Morocco's surprising 0-0 draw with Croatia was another good result by an Arab country in the first World Cup held in that part of the world. Yesterday, in addition to Saudi Arabia's massive upset of Argentina, Tunisia earned a 0-0 draw with European Championship semifinalist Denmark.

Tomorrow's matches:

It's Switzerland vs. Cameroon at 5 a.m. ET, Uruguay vs. South Korea at 8 a.m. ET, Portugal vs. Ghana at 11 a.m. ET and Brazil vs. Serbia at 2 p.m. ET. 

Portugal's opening match follows yesterday's announcement that aging Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo has agreed to part ways with Manchester United after an explosive interview in which he said he had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag and felt "betrayed" by him and the club's executives. Brazil, led by superstar forward Neymar, is the No. 1 ranked team in the world and the betting favourite to win the World Cup.

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