Belgium take on Canada at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan. For Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ this might be their last chance to get their hands on a major trophy. For Canada meanwhile, it is their first appearance at a World Cup since 1986. The Maple Leaf’s finished top of their qualifying section in North America and will be eager to showcase their talents.
Roberto Martínez has been in charge of Belgium for 76 games, and we all know they will lineup in a 3-4-3 formation. Their defence is headlined by Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld who have a combined age of nearly 70 between them. The two big question marks are wing back Thomas Meunier and striker Romelu Lukaku. The former has missed the last 6 weeks of action due to a fractured cheekbone and will be wearing some heavy protection. Lukaku meanwhile, is rumoured to be ruled out for the first two Belgium matches but nothing is confirmed yet. Michy Batshuayi would be the obvious replacement for him upfront.
Canada manager John Herdman is known for changing his tactical system depending on the opposition. They are expected to lineup in a 3-4-1-2 formation here which could easily change into a 5-3-2. Canada have also been known to approach games in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 but it’s more likely they will opt for extra caution and the cushion of a three man centre back trio. Canada’s biggest injury doubt is to their star player Alphonso Davies who has been suffering with a hamstring problem. It will reportedly be a gametime decision whether he starts or not. Midfielder Stephen Eustaquio is another doubt after suffering a muscle injury, whilst goalkeeper Milan Borjan missed training due to an abdominal injury but should be fit enough to start.
Belgium were an offensive juggernaut in qualifying and amassed 3.13 goals per 90 mins. They overachieved their xG of 2.12 per match, but that is still a significantly high number. Defensively, they only conceded 0.75 goals per game, although had a higher xGA of 1.05. They only averaged 5.75 corners per game which is a decent number, but not as high as expected considering they dominated most matches. Belgium averaged 16.40 shots per 90 mins with more than half of those attempts (8.38) on target. Belgium in general were a very clean team, only averaging 1.50 cards per match. Surprisingly their cards against of just 1.25 per match feels very low when you consider the technical quality several of their players have.
Canada also averaged a high number of goals per 90 mins in qualifying (2.70) and only conceded 0.40 per game. They overachieved their metrics at both ends considering their xG was 1.84 and xGA 1.01. Similar to Belgium, Canada averaged a high number of shots per 90 mins (15.14), with a decent SOT rate of 7.21. Impressively, Canada only averaged 1.86 SOT against and were another clean team, picking up just 1.55 cards per match. They averaged over 7 corners in each game with only 3.40 against.
Player shots and shots on target
Both Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi led Belgium with shots per match and SOTs. If Lukaku isn’t fit enough and Batshuayi gets the nod upfront then he has impressive numbers of 4.01 shots per 90 mins, of which 2.29 were on target. He tends to find the target a lot with his attempts. Eden Hazard has a 100% success rate of shots converted into SOTs (1.51), whilst Belgium’s next highest serial shooter after the strikers is Yannick Carrasco, who averages 3.41 attempts per match. Kevin de Bruyne is more known for his assists and only averages 2.55 shots per game.
Cyle Larin and Jonathan David are the obvious Canada standouts for both shots and SOTs. Larin has an impressive 1.93 SOT rate per 90 mins from 3.84 shots, whilst David also is very clinical with 1.74 SOT per 90 mins from 3.24. Both Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett are able deputies for the striker spot and could come off the bench at some stage. Most of the shooting is done by the Canada strikers. Alphonso Davies only averages 1.53 shots per 90 mins, with a disappointing 0.51 on target.
Player goals and assists
Romelu Lukaku led the Belgium scoring charts in qualifying, netting 5 goals in 4 starts. But as aforementioned, he is a major injury doubt for this match. Midfielder Hans Vanaken was actually their second highest scorer in qualifying and also the leading assist provider with three. Competition is fierce to get into the Belgium midfield though and he might not start. Kevin De Bruyne only had two assists in qualifying but in 94 starts for his country he has supplied goals on 46 occasions. He is the obvious candidate for an assist, whilst if Michy Batshuayi starts then he is the most likely to score a goal for Belgium.
Cyle Larin was sensational in qualifying for Canada, netting 13 goals in 11 starts. Jonathan David also had a brilliant campaign scoring 9 times. Star man Alphonso Davies scored 5 times and weighed in with 3 assists. Jonathan David also had 3 assists and is capable of playing in a slightly deeper or wider role compared to Larin who is more a specialist striker.
Belgium are generally known for being quite a clean team. None of their players picked up more than two yellow cards in qualifying, with Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen perhaps the most notable. Leander Dendoncker racked up an average of 2.71 fouls per 90 mins which was significantly more than anyone else. He is in the Belgian squad but unlikely to start this game. Someone may need to deliver a similar sort of robust performance in midfield, and it might be Axel Witsel
Richie Laryea and Tajon Buchanan were the most fouled players in qualifying for Canada. This isn’t a surprise because they both play in the right wing back spot. Yannick Carrasco is an interesting matchup against that position. Jonathan David draws more fouls than Cyle Larin, probably because he drifts around more and can be an elusive figure. His matchups vs the Belgian centre backs will be very interesting.
Matchups to watch
Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld vs Jonathan David
Yannick Carrasco vs Richie Laryea
Axel Witsel vs Stephen Eustaquio or Alfonso Davies
The most carded players for Canada in qualifying were Steven Vitoria, Richie Laryea, Mark-Anthony Kaye & Tajon Buchnanen. It is interesting that two of those players often feature in a wing back role. Whoever plays right wing back for Canada here will be facing Eden Hazard, which definitely spells trouble. Kaye averages significantly more fouls per 90 mins than any other Canada player and is the obvious candidate for fouls and a potential card. Vitoria only averages 1.80 fouls per 90 mins but picked up 5 cards in 11 qualifying starts. He is going to have his hands full with probably Michy Batshuayi as a possible matchup.
Eden Hazard is by far the most fouled Belgian. The often elusive and highly skilled winger can cause all sorts of problems and should be able to draw a few fouls out of whoever starts at right wing back for Canada, likely Richie Laryea. Yannick Carrasco is another who might operate on the left hand side and on average got fouled 1.70 times per 90 mins. Youri Tielemans can be a crafty operator in midfield, often elusive and got fouled on average 1.70 times per 90 mins in qualifying. He could tease Mark Anthony Kaye into some fouls or even a card.
Matchups to watch
Richie Laryea vs Eden Hazard & Yannick Carrasco
Mark Anthony Kaye vs Youri Tielemans
Steven Vitoria vs Michy Batshuayi