Belgium returns three:
Belgium as a team struggled dismally to cope with Canada’s energy and pace in the first half, but the back line looked particularly sluggish, which is of course not surprising. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen make up two thirds of the back three and have 33 and 35 respectively. They still have their attributes, of course – Alderweireld played a good ball over the top for Batshuayi to break free – but his shortcomings were there for everyone at Al Rayyan.
Eden Hazard knows he is not the player he used to be. He admitted it before the tournament started. He no longer has the same pace or agility with which he terrorized defenders. The wounds have seen it. Hazard was hopeful that despite his relegation to reserve player at Real Madrid, he could play at a decent level here in Qatar. However, on the evidence of his first outing, that seems unlikely. There were some flashes of ancient magic; the way he took a long ball over his shoulder in the first half drew gasps from the press box. Unfortunately, this was to be the highlight of an evening that ended prematurely with his substitution in the 62nd minute.
Kevin De Bruyne:
Was Kevin De Bruyne really out there? You know, the best midfielder in the world, that Kevin De Bruyne. Because what we saw here was a pale imitation of the player who lights up the Premier League on a regular basis. De Bruyne killed off a brilliant Belgian breakaway in the first half, played the ball straight to touch early in the second half and then suffered the ignominy of being fouled by Stephen Eustaquio, prompting one of the biggest cheers of the night . FIFA inexplicably named him man of the match, but even De Bruyne admitted he had achieved it on name recognition alone. He himself will know that he will have to do much better if he wants to take this Belgium team to the finals. Of course, every player can have a bad game, even the great ones. But if there is a deeper issue at play here, if De Bruyne is tired or feeling the strain of having played so many games in so little time this season, then Belgium are in deep trouble indeed.
Yannick Carrasco is not everyone’s idea of a quality full-back. Yes, he’s great up front, but it’s fair to say that defending has never been his forte. Martinez clearly expected Belgium to do most of the attacking here, meaning Carrasco would be up front most of the time. As it happened, however, he spent most of the first half in retreat. His withdrawal at half-time was therefore inevitable, given that Atlético Madrid had already been booked for giving away the early penalty with a reckless hand.