Canada’s much anticipated first World Cup match in 36 years lived up to the billing, with the Canadians dominating one of the best sides in the world in Belgium. The 1-0 loss will be a slight disappointment for Herdman and his men, but the Maple Leafs will take away the positives from the performance heading into their final two group games. Here is our analysis of Canada’s 1-0 defeat to Belgium.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-4-2-1 / 5-2-3
Canada set up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, shifting into an adaptive 5-2-3 in defense. The shape matched Belgium’s own intentions throughout the phases in their own 3-4-2-1, whilst ensuring the players would be fully familiar with the principles in place. The Canadian team swapped between a 3-4-2-1 and 4-4-2 throughout qualifying, occasionally adapting to a 3-4-1-2 instead. They’ve had plenty of practice playing in the shape, and have a multitude of players capable of playing in the wing-back and wing-roles to ensure those wide overloads take center stage.Embed from Getty Images
The lineup saw no real revelations, with the only slight surprise being Junior Hoilett’s inclusion ahead of Cyle Larin. But encouraging natural wingers to play in the side and bring that constant energy within the attack meant that David played through the middle alone. This worked in inspiring that energy at every turn, and Larin ultimately came on to be used as a ‘Target Man’ for the final half an hour.
Sam Adekugbe was also left out in place of Alphonso Davies’ return to the side. Although Adekugbe is a brilliant footballer who will play an important role at this tournament, it was nice to see Davies and his dynamic dribbling back in Canadian colours.
ATTACKING PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
Canada had less of the ball than the Belgians in their opening match, but certainly made more of their time in possession. Their xG of 2.63 far surpassed Belgium’s 0.77, and they could easily have had three penalties on the day up against the clumsiness of the opposition defense. In fact, despite keeping a clean sheet as Courtois often does, Martinez’s men couldn’t cope with the pace of the likes of Richie Laryea and Tajon Buchanan down the right wing. Canada’s right-sided overloads took center stage all game long, giving Yannick Carrasco a torrid time – to the point where he was hauled off at half-time having already picked up a yellow card.
It was Alistair Johnston who made his way forward into the attack as an ‘overlapping centre-back’, often times overlapping Richie Laryea and combining with his two fellow right-sided players to create chaos down Belgium’s left. With Stephen Eustáquio also coming to the side of the ball, Herdman’s team completely dominated that channel and created some of their best chances on the night through the wide play into the box.
Unfortunately, they just couldn’t find the right final pass or the right final finish to make their bright moments count. Eustáquio for example put in a magnificent cross on the first right-sided overload shown, only for David to head the ball inches wide of the target. All of their chances and all of their passion and flow will be positives for Herdman to take away, but they will need to be more clinical in the final third ahead of their next two matches.
DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
Coming up against a Belgian side with several famous footballers that have competed at the highest level of the game, Canada would always have been expected to adopt a slightly more defensive mindset, and then use their pace and power to explode in the attack. While Canada had their own brilliant moments of possession, they again impressed on the defensive end within their 5-2-3 shape.
At the front end of the pitch, they remained adaptive within a man-to-man approach, meaning the shape could look more like a 5-1-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 depending on the height of Belgium’s wing-backs and their ‘6’ in the form of Axel Witse. The effervescent Stephen Eustáquio was the man to persistently step on the frilly-haired Belgian, ensuring the defenders had limited room to play through the thirds. As the ball went back to the keeper, Jonathan David would often continue his pressure as Eustáquio stepped, forming a nice diamond shape to force the Belgians long.Embed from Getty Images
Hutchinson meanwhile nicely tracked the typically more advanced movement of Youri Tielemans, to the point where Roberto Martinez even felt compelled to withdraw the Leicester City man at half-time.
With a sense of intensity and electricity shaking in their boots, Belgium had a difficult time playing out from the back and finding the avenues forward. It wasn’t an all-out aggressive press, instead a meticulously designed one that limited forward penetration and forced the defenders to only have each other as options.
As the wing-backs then stepped up high in the opposition’s half, the entire Canadian team made an excellent habit of condensing the side of the ball. Rather than remaining composed and switching play, the Belgians were often subsequently scared into going long, where the beasts at the back contended their aerial contests.
Unfortunately for the Canadians, the electricity in the press and the space they afforded the centre-backs to circulate the ball also meant that Belgium endeavoured to play long on the odd occasion, unfortunately exposing one of Canada’s greatest weaknesses at the back.
While the Canadian side are well-drilled and organized at the back, the high-line of their defense can leave room for pacey attackers to seek space in between their last line and the 35-year-old Milan Borjan who is far from a ‘Sweeper Keeper’. Kamal Miller possesses tremendous pace to react and recover for others in defensive transitions, and so he will continue to be key in closing those gaps when it matters most. On this particular occasion, the run of Eden Hazard down the left forced Richie Laryea to drop his own positioning, keeping Belgium’s Mitchy Batshuayi on-side moments before the goal.
But again, this isn’t to take away anything from the intensity they exuded at every stage. Canada simply have a team of warriors willing to fight tooth and nail to win the match, and this hunger in and out of possession will serve them well.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTSEmbed from Getty Images
Despite the bitter loss, Canada will take away many positives from their opening encounter against Belgium, and certainly put themselves on the map for all to see their brilliance. Finding those key connections in the final third to finish off the chances will be a work in progress ahead of the next two games, and they will need to ensure the balance in behind their high line stays in-tact. But with the likes of David, Davies and Eustáquio in full flow, Canada have every shot of making it out of Group F.
So there it is! A match analysis of Canada’s 1-0 defeat to Belgium in their opening World Cup match. Be sure to check out more of our World Cup content, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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