Canada would’ve won if not for Belgium’s Courtois

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AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Despite a spirited effort from Canada in their first World Cup appearance since 1986, Belgium won the opener of Group F on Wednesday, 1-0, thanks to three big saves from Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and at least one missed penalty call that should’ve gone in Canada’s favour.

Canada had an early opportunity to take the lead after being awarded a penalty kick inside of 10 minutes, but Alphonso Davies’ effort was blocked by Courtois. Canada has still never scored a World Cup goal. Just before the end of the first half, Belgium’s Michy Batshuayi scored off a long ball.

Here is ESPN’s Julien Laurens with reaction and analysis from Qatar.

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Rapid reaction

1. A cruel but proud night for Canada

Football can be cruel sometimes — and the Canadians, in their first World Cup match since 1986, certainly experienced that against Belgium.

Unlike other teams in this tournament, they showed no nerves from the opening whistle. They played attacking football with movement, intensity and passion, pushed by the noise and the support of the 10,000 Canadians inside the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. The game plan of their manager John Herdman was spot-on: no time on the ball for Kevin De Bruyne or Eden Hazard, pressing high and utilising the width of the pitch well.

Stephen Eustaquio (what a player) and the veteran Atiba Hutchinson — at 39 years old, the oldest player in this World Cup and the only member of the squad alive for Canada’s last World Cup appearance in 1986 — bossed the midfield. They created chances and helped generate 2.35 expected goals, or xG, for Canada against just 0.58 xG for their opponent.

Canada were the better team for most of the game, and can be proud of themselves — but…

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