World Cup 2022: What Canada missed ahead of key Croatia game in Belgium

World Cup 2022: What Canada missed ahead of key Croatia game in Belgium

DOHA, Qatar — Even after a good night’s sleep, it’s still unclear why Canada’s men’s national team went toe-to-toe with Belgium in its first World Cup match in 36 years.

It’s so incredible that it almost paid off. Canada outshot Belgium 22-9, generating 1.82 non-penalties Expected goals (xG) to Belgium 0.76 and put it under the cosh.

But the only statistic that matters is the score, which Belgium beat 1-0 on Wednesday.

Group F remains wide open after Morocco and Croatia drew 0-0, although Canada cannot afford to lose another game if it hopes to reach the knockout stages.

With an important game against Croatia on Sunday, here’s an in-depth statistical and tactical breakdown of Canada’s loss and what they can implement in their next game.

Behind the numbers

The xG difference was the talk of social media after the game, and for good reason.

Even with the penalty removed, Canada created enough in open play to deserve a draw. Anticipated Threat (xThreat) also ruled in Canada’s favor.


There is a great Descriptor in xThreat, but essentially it’s a metric used to value an action that increases the chances of scoring. Using an example, if a player completes a pass that moves the ball from an area where their team is unlikely to score, to where they are more likely to score, then they score for their side. Increase xThreat. But if the opposite happens, they reduce xThreat.

No surprises, but Kevin De Bruyne led all players in xThreat with 0.57. Stephen Eustaquio was Canada’s top producer, followed by Junior Howlett, Alastair Johnston and Richie Laria, whose output was just one from open play.


But if we look a little closer at the Canadian xG map, there aren’t many clear chances. The only separate chances were Tajon Buchanan (first-half stoppage time) and Jonathan David (31st minute).

Canada averaged about 0.09 xG per shot during World Cup qualification. It recorded about 0.086 xG per shot on Wednesday, excluding penalties. Les Rouges However, overall quality in Concacaf was usually better. They are certainly not exposed to this level of world-class talent on a regular basis.

“Those are the differences when you get a Real Madrid goalkeeper,” Canada coach John Herdmann said after the game. “Then they have people like that [Jan] Vertonghen [Toby] Alderweireld, [Leander] Dendonkar, the boys have extensive experience in and around the penalty area. It is not easy to score in this World Cup.”

20/20 hindsight

It’s easy to sit here and reflect on the match with the benefit of hindsight. But for Canada to learn another valuable lesson, it must face the facts.

The plan itself was almost flawless. It was just lack of execution.

David Chance wrapped it up perfectly in the 31st minute. He received the ball in space inside the box, had a run wide The right opened up but the Belgian defenders chose to fire against the sea.


“I thought at times it was too much of a pass around the box,” Herdman said. “We talked about pulling the trigger, which was one of the lessons from Uruguay [in September] And they were brilliant against Japan.”

Then, in the second half, Ciel Lauren had a good chance to get a shot off a Tajon Buchanan assist, but missed, took a touch and lost possession.


David and Lauren did a great job of popping up in areas to shoot. However, these are moments where a lighter head may have prevailed. Credit also for making eight blocks of the Belgian defense.

As Herdman pointed out, the team learned from Uruguay and applied it in the November 17 victory over Japan. This team rarely makes the same mistake twice, so it should stay that way against Croatia on Sunday.

the press

We were warned, but no one could have predicted Herdman’s move Full Marcelo Bielsa In Belgium

When Belgium faced the Netherlands in a UEFA Nations League match in September, the Netherlands formed a 5-2-3 formation when the Belgians scored from behind.

Holland sometimes chose high press. Canada was very aggressive.

Herdman lined up in a front three with Tajon Buchanan, Junior Howlett and Jonathan David, moving Alphonso Davis to left back for the first time with the national team since 2019, presumably to ensure that Davis returns from a hamstring strain. He does not tire himself. injury


In addition, unlike the Netherlands in September, Canada used three forwards to mark each of Belgium’s defenders when they received a goal kick, a back pass or a back pass.


Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustaquio formed a double pivot in midfield and they were integral to making the strategy work.

Eustaquio pressed to cover central areas to prevent De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans (or anyone else) from dropping deep to break out of the Belgian defence. That’s why the 25-year-old led all Canadian players in defensive tackles.


But when Eustace and Hutchinson weren’t around, problems started. Due to the man-marking from Canada, Belgium began to move closer to the touchline, drawing the Canadian midfielders with them and this opened up space centrally for De Bruyne to fight back and forth.


That coincided with Canada’s passes allowed defensive action (PPDA) — a strong indicator of a team’s pressure — dropping from 9.3 over 30 minutes to 47 over the final 15 minutes.


In turn, Belgium started to have more counter-attacking opportunities. The likes of Alastair Johnston and Kamal Miller were forced to push to cover the open space.


“In the second half when we started to press them from midfield, there was really more space,” analyzed De Bruyne. “I think the way you have to go through the pressure is to engage them in a way that you can get their press off by playing short. [off goal kicks] Then you need to pass [Canadian] line.”

In the end, the Belgians made up two-thirds of Canada’s defense thanks to the Achilles’ heel: air. Michy Batshuayi scored from Alderweireld’s long ball before half-time and Hazard had a good chance around 15 minutes from time when Johnston was caught by an overhead pass.

Conclusion

Ultimately, depending on one’s perspective, two conclusions can be drawn.

The glass half full tilt is that Canada played without fear and took the world number two team close.

If the glass is half empty, Canada wasn’t good enough against the goal. Moreover, if not for the two late Dutch goals from Miller and Laria, Belgium could have doubled or tripled the advantage.

But if Canada can create a few more set-piece opportunities like they did in the Japan game and add another body in midfield against Croatia’s superior midfield, they might ease the burden on the defense.

“Cover is off,” Herdman announced. “Teams will know what we do and how we go about our business and we face a strong team like Croatia with three halves to die for.”

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