The Canadian men’s national team stepped onto the pitch at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years on Wednesday, falling 1-0 to Belgium in Al Rayyan, Qatar.
Canada started the match very well, and were arguably the better team on the pitch throughout the match, but struggled to take advantage of their chances — most notably when Thibaut Courtois stopped Alphonso Davies’ early penalty. Michy Batshuayi scored late in the first half, the only goal of the match, as Belgium hung onto the three points.
A theme for Canada was their fearlessness; they didn’t seem too fazed by the occasion, nor by the fact that they were playing against some world-class footballers — something that they can build on and continue to show the world that they belong on the biggest stage.
Here are ratings for every player who took the pitch for Canada in this match.
Milan Borjan: 7/10
Borjan was certainly the quieter of the two goalkeepers on the night, and wasn’t called upon as often as he probably expected thanks to the performance of his backline. There wasn’t much he could do from close range on Batshuayi’s opening goal, but throughout the rest of the match he did his job. There were a few instances where Borjan’s quick decision-making resulted in him coming out of his goal to collect through balls into his box, halting Belgian attacks.
Playing right wingback on side of a 3-4-3/5-2-3 formation, Richie Laryea was arguably Canada’s best player on Wednesday. The Toronto FC defender, on loan from Nottingham Forest, was dangerous down the right side, especially in the first half where he played in a couple of promising crosses. He also made a huge block in the second half, tracking back from higher up the pitch and sliding in to get his foot in front of a shot inside the penalty area.
Laryea also did what he does best, fearlessly running at defenders and trying to get in behind the backline. In the first half he charged toward the goal line and had his foot stepped on by Belgium’s Axel Witsel, but the referee was having none of it and wouldn’t point to the penalty spot for a second time.
He was involved throughout his 74 minutes, and showed Herdman that he should be on the pitch again to start Canada’s second match against Croatia.
Alistair Johnston: 7.5/10
Playing on the right side of Canada’s back three to begin the match, and later spending a bit of time in a more advanced wide position, Alistair Johnston put in the solid performance on both sides of the ball that we’ve come to expect from the 24-year-old.
Tasked with marking Eden Hazard, who isn’t the player he once was but still a formidable opponent for any defender, Johnston hardly put a foot wrong. Late in the match, with Canada chasing an equalizer, Johnston played a perfect cross that second-half substitute Cyle Larin got his head to, but couldn’t redirect past a diving Courtois.
Johnston is an indispensable member of this team, and proved it once again.
Kamal Miller: 8/10
If Laryea wasn’t Canada’s best player on Wednesday, that honour surely goes to CF Montreal centre-back Kamal Miller. Seen as one of the players who could earn a move overseas with a good showing in this tournament, Miller put in a brilliant performance on the left side of Canada’s back three.
He made a huge block in the first half, denying an earlier chance from Batshuayi with a last-second lunge that was clearly appreciated by goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Miller made a few brave plays like that in this match, the other standout moment being a perfectly-timed slide tackle to get in front of Batshuayi on a counter-attack in the second half. Had Miller missed the ball, Batshuayi and Kevin De Bruyne would have been in on goal, but Miller’s effort ensured that the Fenerbahçe striker never got that chance.
The main criticism was his positioning on Belgium’s goal — Miller didn’t react quickly enough to follow the speedy Batshuayi’s run, and was left scrambling back into position, but it was too little, too late. That one lapse shouldn’t define what was otherwise a brilliant showing, but will be what the match is remembered for.
Steven Vitória: 7/10
As was the case with Miller, the only real lapse in judgement from Steven Vitória was his positioning on Belgium’s goal. Vitória was slightly ahead of the rest of Canada’s backline when the pass from Toby Alderweireld was played over the top, and the Torontonian defender lacked the pace to chase down Michy Batshuayi once the ball was behind him.
Vitória is unquestionably an intelligent player, however, and often knew when to step forward to challenge for the ball and when to be more patient and let the attacker come to him.
A threat in the air, Vitória looked frustrated on a couple of occasions as attacking set-pieces went over his head or didn’t fall to him, something Canada will want to work on in the coming days to maximize their goalscoring opportunities. It was a solid performance from Vitória against a very good team.
Stephen Eustáquio: 7.5/10
Another one of Canada’s rapidly rising stars, Stephen Eustáquio ran the show in midfield for Les Rouges as expected. The Porto midfielder was sharp in possession and fearless on both sides of the ball — willing to take risks in attack and get stuck in defensively.
One of the highlights for the 25-year-old was nutmegging Kevin De Bruyne — widely believed to be among the best players in the world — early in the second half, before playing an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Jonathan David, who sent the ball wide of the target. It’s the ability to produce those moments of magic that make Eustáquio a crucial player for Canada.
Some of his set piece deliveries weren’t at the level he knows he’s capable of, as he kept overhitting free kicks into the penalty area, something he’ll be keen to sharpen up in training in the coming days.
Atiba Hutchinson: 7/10
Canada’s captain and leader Atiba Hutchinson finally made his World Cup debut on Wednesday after nearly two decades with the national team. Hutchinson, 39, became the second-oldest outfield player to take the pitch at the World Cup against Belgium, not that you could tell from watching him play.
Hutchinson is consistently a solid performer for Canada, rarely putting in a poor performance, and that remained the case in this match, his 99th appearance for the senior team. Hutchinson was a calming presence for a team made up of fellow World Cup debutants, and while he didn’t have the biggest impact on the match it was clear to see that he was comfortable on both sides of the ball throughout his hour of work before being replaced by Ismaël Koné as Canada looked for a bit more in attack.
He also attempted a shot from distance in the first half, an early effort that showed Canada’s ambition to test Belgium’s defenders early and often.
Junior Hoilett: 6.5/10
Junior Hoilett started the game well and was one of several Canadians that made life difficult for the Belgian defenders with his constant pressing in the first half. There were a couple of moments where he closed down centre-backs Toby Alderweireld and Leander Dendoncker near their own goal line, winning a couple of set-pieces.
Hoilett was tasked with taking those set-pieces against Japan in Canada’s final pre-World Cup friendly and was extremely effective, but with those responsibilities given to Alphonso Davies for this match instead, some of Hoilett’s ability to be involved in the attack was taken away from him. If he starts against Croatia, don’t be surprised if he has more of an impact in attack from dead ball situations.
The start of the second half was a bit less effective from the Reading attacker, and he would be replaced by Cyle Larin in the 58th minute, ending a relatively quiet night for Hoilett.
Tajon Buchanan: 6.5/10
Buchanan was often in the right place at the right time in Wednesday’s match, on the end of several of Canada’s best goalscoring opportunities. The issue for the Canadian winger was taking advantage of those chances and putting the ball into the back of the net. Buchanan, who plays his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge, sent multiple shots from in or around the penalty area into orbit, unable to control them as much as he needed and would have liked.
Still, despite his frustration at not being able to score, Buchanan showed no signs of hesitation, continuing to run at the Belgian defenders. He also played in a few crosses for his teammates and was a major threat as Canada knocked on the door repeatedly throughout the contest.
There’s room to improve for Buchanan like there is for every player in the squad, and he’ll be keen to show more of his quality against Croatia and Morocco.
It wasn’t Alphonso Davies’ night in his World Cup debut. It began with a poorly struck penalty early in the first half — one that he immediately wanted to take himself, but that wasn’t struck with enough power or a good enough placement, allowing Thibaut Courtois to make a big stop for his side.
As is the case every time he steps on the pitch, Davies used his elite pace and acceleration to his advantage at times, but every time the Bayern Munich star was in possession of the ball, he was immediately swarmed by defenders. At times it looked as though he was trying to do a bit too much on his own, perhaps looking for redemption after his miss from 12 yards out, but often it resulted in a turnover or an opportunity not being maximized by looking for a smarter option.
Some of Davies’ set piece deliveries weren’t very effective either, something that Herdman will want to address over the next few days — possibly giving Junior Hoilett or Stephen Eustaquio those responsibilities back.
Davies is Canada’s most talented player, and will likely show that in Canada’s next two matches, and potentially beyond. If Canada are to advance to the next round, its best players will have to be its best performers.
Like Buchanan, striker Jonathan David failed to take advantage of the chances presented to him throughout this match. He was getting service from his teammates, on the end of a number of crosses into the penalty area and receiving the ball in the box on a few occasions, but was missing the target, and had an effort blocked in the first half as well.
There is a debate to be had that it was David who should have taken Canada’s penalty, as he takes the spot kicks for Lille at club level, but that can’t be blamed on David himself as Davies grabbed the ball and immediately took responsibility. There will likely be a discussion amongst the players and Herdman this week to ensure that David, Canada’s best finisher, knows he’s the designated penalty taker when he’s on the pitch.
Larin, who also plays his club football at Club Brugge in Belgium with Buchanan, looked really sharp off the bench, and nearly found the back of the net with a header in the 80th minute. After Alistair Johnston curled a cross into the box, Larin got his head to it, redirecting it toward the far bottom corner, but Courtois was able to get to it in time to keep the Red Devils’ lead intact, the first of two chances the Canadian had in the air in this one (more on that in a moment).
Sam Adekugbe: 6.5/10
After coming off the bench to replace Richie Laryea, Sam Adekugbe formed a nice partnership on the left flank with Tajon Buchanan and Liam Millar, combining well to open up space for crosses into the penalty area. The best cross from Adekugbe was to Larin, who couldn’t keep his aforementioned second headed attempt down, watching it sail over Courtois’ goal.
It was a bit of a surprise that Adekugbe didn’t start this match, as Canada’s first-choice left back throughout World Cup Qualifying was replaced by Alphonso Davies, who was in that wingback role so Herdman could get another attacker onto the pitch. If Herdman plays around with his tactics before the Croatia game, don’t be surprised to see Adekugbe back on the left side of the defence.
As mentioned above, Millar and Adekugbe combined well on the left flank after coming off the bench a few minutes after the defender, and played a couple of promising crosses into the box himself. He was only on the pitch for 10-15 minutes and didn’t really have enough of the ball to impact the game in a huge way, but there was a lot to like about what he managed in that span.
Ismaël Koné: 6.5/10
Continuing his remarkable upwards trajectory since making his professional debut for CF Montreal earlier this year, Ismaël Koné saw just over half an hour off the bench in relief of Atiba Hutchinson. The 20-year-old, who has shown a remarkable ability to remain calm under the intense pressure of big matches already with an important goal in the MLS Cup playoffs and another goal — his first for Canada — in one of the World Cup warmup matches against Bahrain, stepped in and immediately looked sharp. He played a few line-breaking passes and was the pivot point in midfield to link the defence with the attack.
A start in the World Cup may not happen for Koné in this edition of the tournament (watch for him to be a key contributor in 2026 if he can continue to impress for club and country in the coming years), but he showed Herdman that he can at the very least contribute off the bench.
Jonathan Osorio: 6/10
Coming on at the same time as Millar, replacing Eustáquio, Osorio also wasn’t really given much time make a huge impact on this match, getting about 15 minutes off the bench. They were high-intensity minutes, however, with Osorio helping Canada apply late pressure on Belgium to look for an equalizer, but that crucial goal would never come.
He combined well on the left side with Adekugbe and Millar on a couple of occasions, but would be more effective with more time on the pitch to settle in and create scoring opportunities for himself and teammates.