Alphonso Davies had the chance to score his nation’s first-ever World Cup goal, to grab a quick lead on Belgium. As Davies readied for the spot kick in the 11th minute after a hand ball, red-clad Canadian fans at the other end of Ahmed bin Ali Stadium buzzed in anticipation for a moment decades in the making.
“You’re carrying the weight of a nation: 36 years of waiting — longer than 36 for our first goal,” coach John Herdman said.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois guessed correctly to dive right and batted Davis’ attempt with his forearm. The ball bounced away, and the Canadians never got any closer to scoring.
Despite dominating the world’s second-ranked team in Canada’s first World Cup match since 1986, the Canadians fell to Belgium 1-0 Wednesday night as Michy Batshuayi scored on a quick counter in the 44th minute.
Davies did not speak with media after the game.
“He’s our star player. He’s one of the best players in the world. He’ll move on and he’ll have another chance and he’ll bury it,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. “There was also the best goalkeeper in the world in net he had to put it past.”
Courtois had studied video of Davies.
“He shot twice that side, so that’s why I decided to go that way,” Courtois said.
A large part of the crowd of 40,432 in the Arabian desert stadium supported Canada.
Many waved the Maple Leaf and they proudly sang “O Canada” before the match.
“Goosebumps,” Osorio said. “Times are changing in this country for this sport. I was little bit surprised. It’s not a close trip from Canada to get here. It shows you how much support we have, how much the fans love football, how much people love football in Canada. This is a change in the history of this sport in this country. It felt like a home game. And I think Belgium felt like an away game.”
Players brought along the sword they carried around Central America and the Caribbean during qualifying, which is inscribed “Nihil timendum est (Fear nothing).”
Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke with the team before the match.
Atiba Hutchinson, at 39, became the oldest non-goalkeeper to start a World Cup match.
Even though Canada dropped to 0-4 in the World Cup, players felt proud and felt they had momentum going into Sunday’s game against Croatia, the losing finalist in the 2018 World Cup. Croatia opened with a 0-0 draw against Morocco.
“They walk away proud, I’m sure, proud of the feeling that we’re a football nation,” Herdman said. “We came into that game with a couple of goals. The first goal was to play fearless, and the second goal was to entertain. We had some other goals, which were to create some firsts, but we weren’t quite up to those moments.”
He gathered players on the field after the final whistle.
“I was really passionate in the circle,” Herdman said, recounting what he told them. “I thought that was a big step for this country. We deserve to be here. You’ve shown that. You’ve shown that you can live here.”