Alphonso Davies is the legitimate face of Canadian men’s soccer.
The 22-year-old is an incredible talent, won the Champions League with Bayern Munich and has an inspiring and fascinating life story.
Although he missed the last two qualifying windows this spring due to heart complications that arose after contracting COVID-19 in January, he played a huge part in his country’s unexpected road back to the World Cup. He led a skilled and diverse team as they finished the CONCACAF playoffs and returned to competition for the first time since 1986.
The World Cup did not start well. Davies missed a penalty in the 11th minute that would have given them the lead – and how it cost them. Try as they might they couldn’t score because Belgium won 1-0.
Canada started the match in impressive fashion, harassing the No. 2 team in the world rankings with reckless shrugs and storming ahead in the opening moments.
It only took the eighth minute for their great pressure to pay the dividend. Winger Tajon Buchanan, who plays in Belgium for Club Brugge and was a huge threat throughout, half-volleyed towards the goal.
Belgian full-back Yannick Carrasco blocked the shot, but a later video review showed he stopped the ball with his outstretched left arm. Canada was awarded a penalty, and with it, a great chance to take a surprise lead with their first World Cup goal.
Davies held the ball confidently. He doesn’t have as much experience in penalties as star striker Jonathan David, who has taken nine out of 12 penalties in his career, but Davies has converted two on international duty.
More importantly, he’s the best male player in his country’s history, an $85 million man who, despite his young age, has done more to put the sport on the map in Canada than anyone else. He had every right to be punished.
As it turns out, so did Thibaut Courtois. Davies made a weak attempt to his left as the Belgium star goalkeeper made a comfortable save with his towering 6ft 7in frame. The shot was relatively soft, poorly positioned and easily readable by Courtois.
Thibaut Courtois saves Belgium! He saves an Alphonso Davies penalty and deprives Canada of a dream start
(Across @employee) pic.twitter.com/l45yTPEtoU
– SI Soccer (@si_soccer) November 23, 2022
Davis didn’t stop to answer any questions after the game, but Canada’s coach John Herdman spoke at length about his star miss.
Herdman is a charismatic and positive manager, an avowed believer in giving players ownership and agency on their team, which he regularly refers to as “brotherhood”. This brotherhood is responsible for sorting out who takes the penalties, Herdman said.
He said, “It’s up to them.” “When you have an $85 million player who plays with that kind of confidence and swagger, you let him pick up the ball and take it. He plays penalties like John David does, (Lucas Cavallini), they all practice their penalties, he wasn’t even close. Courtois is a good keeper, Let’s give him some credit.”
Herdman did not throw a foul at Davies for the foul, instead showering him with praise for his decision to take charge of it.
“It was a big moment,” Herdman said. “We were waiting for that first goal. And, you know, I’m proud of Fonzie – he just picked up the ball. It’s a big thing for any player to do that, you carry the weight of a nation, 36 years of waiting, longer than 36 years for the first goal. So, proud He really caught the ball. This takes on a special character.”
The other Canada players stuck to that script as well, backing up their teammate.
It was easy to wonder if it would derail Canada’s hopes and revitalize Belgium. It wasn’t much of a credit to Herdman and his players and their sense of unity and spirit.
Canada stumbled after failure, but only then quickly rebounded and stayed ahead.
Unfortunately for them, Miss Davies becomes the defining moment. Although they outscored Belgium 22-9 and scored an expected 2.61 goals to Belgium’s 0.79, Canada, for all their swagger and confidence, could not find the net.
In contrast, Belgium scored one of their few clear chances. Striker Michy Batshuayi ran a long, curling ball from center back Toby Alderweireld in the 44th minute, pinned it to the left side of the area and slotted a shot past goalkeeper Milan Borgan.
Like his team, Davies responded after missing the penalty. He had many beautiful moments, especially in the last 20 minutes of the first half, making some long dribbles that he has to create chances.
However, he never clicked his best equipment. Herdman thought Davies was “brilliant”, but this was just a case of the coach praising a player who was undoubtedly feeling vulnerable. He and David were outshone by several of their teammates, who are considered the team’s other flagship, including Buchanan, linebacker Richie Larea, midfielder Stephen Eustachio and winger Junior Howlett.
This will likely change so that Canada can reach the Round of 16. They took it to Belgium, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they belong in the World Cup and no doubt became a good candidate for many neutrals.
However, the defeat leaves them in a difficult position. They will miss the race for the knockout stage if they lose their next match on Sunday against Croatia, who drew 0-0 with Morocco. Like Belgium, Croatia is an older team. They may have passed their peak, but they still have a lot of talent. Canada will need more Davies to get a result.
Fortunately for them, Davies is able to step over the error and come back with a great performance. He’s a fantastic individual, who has gone through more difficult ordeals than missing a penalty.
The Canadian crowd is also likely to stay behind, buoyed by the team’s commendable performance and knowing they may not have made it to Qatar without him. If they were to extend their stay beyond the group stage, Davis would have a lot to do with that.
“He could be a big player for us,” Herdman said. “Not scoring today will only make him hungrier to score in the future.”
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(Photo: Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)