On a day when the remarkably talented Belgium – led by former Toffee coach Roberto Martinez – weren’t playing their best football, the team came away with three points against a strong Canadian side who were not easy to beat in the remaining two games will be. Group F started slowly, with a draw between Croatia and Morocco, but given the poor results it currently looks like Canada and Croatia will be fighting for second place, while Morocco could still easily spoil those dreams and the lead of many viewers.
The stats show a side of this game and apart from the goal scored by Michy Batshuayi against the flow of play at the end of the first half, Canada had many of the better chances in the first fifty to sixty minutes. The shots were one-sided and with a better finish from Alphonso Davies in the early penalty awarded by VAR against Canada, the direction of the entire game could have conceivably been very different from how it turned out.
However, Belgium were stronger in many ways in the second half and the substitutions Martinez used – including bringing in Everton’s Amadou Onana for Youri Tielemans – bolstered the Red Devils when they needed support.
Roberto Martinez played Tielemans up the right wing in the first half, but when he gave way to Onana as one of two substitutions to open the second half for Belgium, the form changed from an apparent 3-4-3 at the start They with something more like a 4-4-2 in attack, and even something like a 5-4-1. Onana faced a yellow card just minutes after coming on for his first World Cup game of his career, but defensive aggression, ball handling and passing skills helped give the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and others more control to create society.
On the whole Onana looked good, controlling the ball and moving forward with it earlier before Martinez seemingly let him recline in a more withdrawn position, although Canada rushed forward in numbers to equalize.
As Onana continues to grow into his skills and physical attributes, it will be important for Frank Lampard to give the player more creative freedom and responsibility. He seemed a natural alongside Belgium’s top-flight players of the last decade and will most likely be a standout player for this nation for the next decade or so. While he often plays a defensive position at the moment, I could see a Pogba-like versatility developing where he can play equally well as an attacking and defensive midfielder.
For Onana and Belgium, the test will be Morocco, where an upset would see the African nation in a better position to advance than most pundits considered when the groups were announced. Canada, meanwhile, will find themselves in a position where a loss to Croatia would likely signal their early exit from this tournament, while Croatia will certainly want to put themselves in a better position to move forward than they left their first game Has.