Michy Batshuayi’s first-half goal was enough for an underdog Belgium team to win 1-0 over Canada playing their first World Cup game in 36 years on Wednesday.
Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saved an early penalty from Alphonso Davies and Batshuayi opened the scoring in the 44th minute.
John Herdman’s Canada, cheered by their vocals, was also denied another strong penalty appeal and prevailed in the second half but to no avail.
Belgium are without injury record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku and have struggled with the pace of the Canadian strikers.
However, the 2018 semi-finalists held on to the top of the fiercely competitive Group F following a goalless draw between Croatia and Morocco earlier on Wednesday.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez admitted: “Technically, it was our ‘worst game’, yes, when you measure the performance. “Was it the ‘worst game’, because we won.
“We defended well and we need our goalkeeper.”
Canada will head into Sunday’s match against Croatia brimming with confidence after outplaying the world’s second-placed team, who next face Morocco.
“Tonight they showed that they belong here. It’s been a long time since we’ve been back,” said Herdman, the first coach to lead the teams at the Men’s and Women’s World Cups.
“I’m sure they (the fans) went away proud and feeling like we were a football nation.
“I think this group stage is wide open after the Croatia-Morocco result.”
The North American team, which matched Belgium in terms of formation by playing three defenders, had a good start and Jonathan David’s low effort went wide of the post.
From the corner, Tajon Buchanan’s shot was parried by Yannick Carrasco and a penalty was awarded after a VAR check in the 11th minute.
But Davies made a feeble effort and was saved by Courtois on his right side, before David made a shot over the crossbar.
Belgium’s aging defence was struggling with the pace of the Canadian attackers and Junior Hoilett crept in behind before firing a long shot.
The weaker sides continued to attack, as Courtois saved a fierce right-back from right-back Alistair Johnston and David missed the target.
Canada was denied a major penalty despite a VAR review when Axel Witsel was crossed in the box by Richie Laryea and then tripped.
Belgium suddenly took the lead when a simple long pass from above from Toby Alderweireld found a pass from Batshuayi, who had finished with his left foot.
There was still time for Canada to create and squander another glorious opportunity before halftime, when Laryea’s low cross was delivered by Buchanan on the slide from six yards.
Martinez made two substitutions in the first half to try to stop the situation, with Thomas Meunier replacing Carrasco and Everton youngster Amadou Onana in midfield.
However, Canada could have leveled just minutes after the game restarted, when David headed off the post after a fine pass from Stephen Eustaquio after the Porto midfielder fouled Kevin De Bruyne.
Herdman’s men continued to push forward, but could not find the finish they needed, when Buchanan made a terrible foul from the edge of the box.
The more Canada attacked, the more dangerous Belgium looked at halftime and Laryea made a great final tackle to deny Batshuayi a second goal.
Substitute Cyle Larin, the top scorer in CONCACAF qualifying for the tournament, headed too close to Courtois in a frenetic final.
De Bruyne could have ended the game but plowed into the crowd, while Larin hit another header over the Courtois crossbar as Belgium crossed the line.
BUT RELATED STORY
Register QUESTIONER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer and more than 70 other titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to news, download as early as 4am and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.