John Herdman believes his Canadian side have proven they belong at the 2022 World Cup after eclipsing Belgium only to slip to a narrow defeat.
Michy Batshuayi scored the game’s only goal as a lackluster Belgium, ranked second in the world, started Group F with a barely-deserved 1-0 win.
Canada – 39 places behind Belgium in the table – earlier missed a penalty as Alphonso Davies’ tame effort was saved by Thibaut Courtois before potentially being denied two more shots on goal in the first half time.
Playing in their first World Cup in 36 years, Canada more than held on and managed 21 shots on goal to Belgium’s nine.
England’s Herdman brought the Reds back to the world stage after a fine qualifying campaign – becoming the first manager to successfully complete both the men’s and women’s World Cups.
“They showed tonight that they belong here,” he said.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been back, our fans were football fans, they really tried to own the stadium tonight.
“They (the fans) came away I’m sure proud and feeling like we were a footballing nation. We came into the game with a few goals, the first was to play without fear and the second was to entertain.
“We had other goals – to create firsts, but we never hit those moments. I think sometimes it was one too many rounds around the box. I’m not going to criticize them because when you shoot better than Belgium, I can’t complain too much.
“Sometimes it’s your night and sometimes it’s not. They made a commitment to themselves before going out tonight.
Herdman revealed that astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke to his players before the game but now has to bring his team back to earth before they face Croatia on Sunday.
“Teams know us now, that’s it, the covers are off,” he added.
“We are facing a team like Croatia with a midfield to die for. People will come into the next game respecting us a little more and knowing what we are doing. We have a big game coming up against Croatia and we deserve to be here.
Remarkably, Kevin De Bruyne received the Man of the Match award when he was far from his best.
The Manchester City midfielder summed up both Belgium’s performance and his own performance as he accepted the accolade in the post-match press conference.
“I don’t think I played a great game,” he admitted. “I don’t know why I got the trophy, maybe because of (my) name. I don’t think we played well enough as a team.
“We found no solution. We got off to a really bad start, the momentum was with Canada and we couldn’t find a way through their press.
“I don’t think we played a good game today, myself included, but we found a way to win and that was it.”