John Herdman believes Canada “showed that they do belong” at the World Cup despite losing their opening match 1-0 to Belgium on Wednesday.
Making their World Cup return after a 36-year exodus, Canada dominated the first half and should have gone ahead when they were awarded a penalty after Yannick Carrasco handled Tajon Buchanan’s shot.
However, Alphonso Davies saw his spot-kick saved by Thibaut Courtois, before Michy Batshuayi struck Belgium’s winner a minute before half-time to ensure Canada’s World Cup return ended in defeat.
Despite the disappointing result, Canada’s head coach Herdman was pleased with his team’s performance after such a long spell away from international football’s top competition.
“They showed that they [Canada] do belong,” Herdman told reporters in his post-match news conference. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been back.
“The fans tried to warm the stadium and I’m sure they walked away proud that we are a football nation. I’m really proud.
“We had a couple of goals, to play fearless and to entertain. We had other goals but never got to those moments.”
Canada finished the game with 22 shots to Belgium’s nine, but they only hit the target with three of those as they drew a blank, becoming just the third team in World Cup history to fail to score a goal in their first four matches.
Herdman complimented Belgium’s defending, adding: “The stats would say we are a ruthless team, we just couldn’t find the net.
“When you have the Real Madrid goalkeeper [Courtois] it makes a difference, when you also have [Toby] Alderweireld, [Jan] Vertonghen, [Leander] Dendoncker, it’s difficult to get through.
“I thought sometimes it was one touch too many around the box, but when you outshoot Belgium you can’t complain too much. Sometimes it’s your night, and sometimes it’s not.”
12 – Canada has attempted 12 shots in the opening 32 minutes, more than it had in any of its three matches in the 1986 World Cup. Reintroduction. pic.twitter.com/C8H5a2baKW
— OptaJack (@OptaJack) November 23, 2022
Herdman was asked why Davies, a defender, took the penalty ahead of the likes of striker Jonathan David, who has scored nine goals in 15 games for Ligue 1 side Lille this season, including two penalties.
Herdman defended Davies, saying: “It was a big moment, we were waiting to get that first goal.
“I’m proud of Phonzy [Davies], he’s picked the ball up. It’s a big moment for any player, carrying the weight of a nation. It takes a special character.
“When you have an $85million player, let him take it. He practices just like Jonny David. Give Courtois credit too, that was some good keeping.”
One positive for Canada is that Morocco and Croatia, the other teams in Group F, played out a goalless draw earlier in the day, meaning Herdman’s side still have a decent chance of getting through.
With Croatia up next for Canada on Sunday, Herdman acknowledged both the importance and difficulty of that fixture, explaining: “The group is wide open after the Morocco and Croatia result.
“But teams know us now, the cover is off, teams will know what we do and we’re coming up against a formidable team in Croatia who have a midfield to die for.”