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Winners & Losers

Can we have Man City De Bruyne back?! Belgium winners, losers and ratings as Batshuayi & Courtois keep Canada at bay

21:48 GMT 23/11/2022
Canada Belgium World Cup 2022
Roberto Martinez's side somehow managed to record a 1-0 win in their World Cup opener despite being outplayed by Canada.

Has Belgium's best chance to win a major trophy with their 'Golden Generation' passed? It would appear so.

Roberto Martinez's side actually kicked off their 2022 World Cup campaign with a win, with Michy Batshuayi scoring the only goal of their Group F clash with Canada on Wednesday night, but it was utterly undeserved.

Belgium were battered but the Canucks simply weren't clinical enough, even missing a penalty during a particularly one-sided first half.

Indeed, they had eight shots in the first 15 minutes alone but only one was on target, and that was the Alphonso Davies spot-kick saved by Thibaut Courtois.

Martinez can quite justifiably argue that winning is all that matters on matchday one, but this was a performance that has done little to shake the long-held suspicion that his team is well past its best.

Below, GOAL runs through all of Belgium's winners and losers from a dire display in Al Rayyan in which even Kevin De Bruyne – who somehow scooped the official man of the match award – looked like an imposter...

  • Thibaut Courtois Belgium

    The Winners

    Thibaut Courtois:

    Let's face it, Davies' penalty was dreadful. However, it would be wrong to be too harsh on a 22-year-old playing in his first World Cup. It's not easy going up against Courtois at the best of times. He's an imposing figure. And he can appear unbeatable at times - he certainly was in Real Madrid's Champions League final win over Liverpool last season. So, it wasn't hugely surprising to see Courtois get the better of Davies in their early battle of wits. After all, the Belgian No.1 won the Golden Glove award at Russia 2018; he looks capable of defending the title.

    Michy Batshuayi:

    Michy Batshuayi did score at the 2018 World Cup, but the abiding image of his tournament was him celebrating Belgium's group-stage winner against England by attempting to smash the ball into the crowd, only to see it ricochet off the post and up into his face. Good-natured character that he is, Batshuayi saw the funny side, tweeting afterwards, "Why am I so stupid, bro?!" Happily, his 2022 World Cup campaign could prove memorable for all the right reasons. Indeed, with Romelu Lukaku struggling physically, Batshuayi could have a massive role to play at Qatar 2022, as he proved here in Doha by clinically finishing the first big chance that came his way to put his country ahead right at the end of a torrid first half for Roberto Martinez's side.

  • Kevin De Bruyne Belgium

    The Losers

    Belgium's back three:

    Belgium, as a team, struggled dismally to deal with Canada's energy and pace during the first half but the backline looked particularly sluggish, which is hardly surprising of course. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen make up two-thirds of the back three and they are 33 and 35, respectively. They still have their attributes, of course – Alderweireld played a fine ball over the top for Batshuayi to break the deadlock – but their deficiencies were there for all to see in Al Rayyan.

    Eden Hazard:

    Eden Hazard knows he's not the player he once was. He admitted it before the tournament began. He no longer has the same pace or nimbleness with which he once terrorised defenders. Injuries have seen to that. Hazard was hopeful that in spite of his relegation to a reserve player at Real Madrid that he might be able to play at a decent level here in Qatar. However, on the evidence of his first outing, that seems unlikely. There were some flashes of the old magic; the way in which he took down one long ball over his shoulder during the first half drew gasps from the press box. Unfortunately, that was to be the highlight of an evening that was brought to a premature end by his 62nd-minute substitution.

    Kevin De Bruyne:

    Was that really Kevin De Bruyne out there? You know, the best midfielder in the world, that Kevin De Bruyne. Because what we saw here was a pale imitation of the player that lights up the Premier League on a regular basis. De Bruyne butchered one brilliant Belgian breakaway in the first half, played the ball straight into touch early in the second half and then suffered the ignominy of being nutmegged by Stephen Eustaquio, which drew one of the biggest cheers of the night. FIFA inexplicably named him man of the match but even De Bruyne admitted that he had got it on name recognition alone. He'll know himself that he will have to perform a hell of a lot better if he is to carry this Belgium team to the final. Every player can, of course, have a bad game, even the great ones. But if there's a deeper issue at play here, if De Bruyne is tired, or feeling the strain of having already played so many games in such a short space of time this season, then Belgium really are in big trouble.

    Yannick Carrasco:

    Yannick Carrasco is not everyone's idea of a quality wing-back. Yes, he's great going forward but it's fair to say that defending has never been his forte. Martinez clearly expected Belgium to do most of the attacking here, meaning Carrasco would be on the front foot most of the time. As it transpired, though, he spent most of the first half in retreat. His half-time withdrawal was, therefore, inevitable, given the Atletico Madrid man was already on a booking for giving away the early penalty with a reckless handball.

  • Jan Vertonghen Belgium

    Belgium Ratings: Defence

    Thibaut Courtois (8/10):

    Not the best penalty he's ever faced but Courtois' save from Davies' spot-kick was crucial as it came at a time when Belgium were all over the place defensively.

    Leander Dendoncker (4/10):

    Not as vulnerable to pace as his fellow centre-backs but was still at sixes and sevens during the first half.

    Toby Alderweireld (5/10):

    Used the ball well, in fairness, providing the assist for Batshuayi's winner and he did make some vital interceptions, but he was also made to look very pedestrian by Canada's attackers.

    Jan Vertonghen (4/10):

    A tad better in the second half but his horrific first-half showing shouldn't be forgotten.

  • Youri Tielemans Belgium

    Midfield

    Timothy Castagne (6/10):

    Didn't play particularly well but a far more reliable wing-back than his team-mate on the opposite flank.

    Youri Tielemans (3/10):

    A surprisingly poor performance from Tielemans, who appeared tired. Hooked at half-time.

    Axel Witsel (5/10):

    Not the worst but nowhere near his best and failed to really impose himself in the middle of the park.

    Yannick Carrasco (2/10):

    A total liability. Gave away the penalty but was looking like the weak link even before then. Rightly replaced at the interval.

  • Michy Batshuayi Belgium

    Attack

    Kevin De Bruyne (4/10):

    Looked absolutely nothing like Manchester City's version of De Bruyne. Made one mistake after another and a miserable evening was capped by that embarrassing nutmeg. Still, somehow he claimed the FIFA man of the match award. Baffling.

    Eden Hazard (4/10):

    Sadly not the player he once was. Pulled off one incredible first touch early on but could have no complaints about being taken off midway through the second half.

    Michy Batshuayi (7/10):

    Looked sharp right from the off, having his first effort on goal inside the first couple of minutes. Was a little isolated for a long while after, but took his chance to open the scoring at the end of a one-sided half with aplomb.

  • Roberto Martinez Belgium

    Subs & Manager

    Thomas Meunier (6/10):

    An upgrade on Carrasco, although that isn't saying much. Still, expect him to start Belgium's next game.

    Amadou Onana (4/10):

    Brought on in place of Tielemans, presumably to add a bit of dynamism and steel to the midfield, but he got booked for a flailing arm and also passed the ball straight out of play at one point.

    Leandro Trossard (6/10):

    Replaced the fading Hazard just after the hour mark and buzzed about, but to little avail.

    Lois Openda (6/10):

    Didn't make much of an impact after coming on for Batshuayi with 12 minutes remaining.

    Roberto Martinez (5/10):

    Fair to say that the Spaniard got his selection wrong, as underlined by the withdrawal of two players at half-time, even though Belgium were winning. Martinez has plenty to ponder ahead of Sunday's meeting with Morocco.