The expanded 2026 World Cup may not necessarily feature three-team groups amid criticism of the proposed reforms, says FIFA's chief of global football Arsene Wenger.

In January 2017, the FIFA Council voted to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup finals from 32 to 48, with the first tournament under the new format set to take place across the United States, Mexico and Canada in four years' time. 

FIFA initially said the new format will contain 16 groups of three teams, with the top two in each advancing to a 32-team knockout stage, but that proposal has attracted renewed criticism recently.

Several thrilling group-stage finales at the current tournament in Qatar, where Japan and South Korea advanced in dramatic circumstances and the possibility of Poland and Mexico being separated via their disciplinary records emerged, have provoked calls to abandon the plan.

The existing proposal would see an end to groups being decided by simultaneous fixtures on matchday three, but Wenger has revealed the format could yet be altered.

"This is not decided, but it will be 16 groups of three, 12 groups of four, or two sides of six groups of four, like you organise two 24-team [tournaments]," Wenger said on Sunday.

"I will not be able to decide that, it will be decided by the FIFA Council, and I think it will be done in the next year."

Earlier this week, it was also reported FIFA were considering the introduction of group-stage penalty shoot-outs under the new format, with winning teams being granted a bonus point. 

Sixteen cities were officially selected to host games at the 2026 World Cup earlier this year, with Vancouver, Toronto, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City joining 11 locations across the USA.

Reported Manchester United target Jonathan David believes the Premier League is "the best in the world" and says every footballer wants to play there.

David, who featured in all three of Canada's games at the World Cup, has started the 2022-23 season in fine form for Lille in Ligue 1, scoring nine goals in 15 appearances.

That has apparently caught the attention of English giants United, who are in the market for a new forward following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

David, 22, is not aware of any interest, but revealed he has ambitions to play in the English top flight "some day".

"I am aware of nothing," David said. "When I am at the World Cup I am just focused on trying to enjoy the World Cup and enjoying the moment.

"What happens after I do not know, we will have to see.

"The Premier League is the best league in the world and I think every player would want to play there some day."

Canada crashed out of their first World Cup since 1986 after losing all three of their Group F games.

However, David believes the Maple Leafs gathered enough experience in Qatar to put in a much better showing in four years' time when they co-host the tournament alongside the USA and Mexico.

"What makes the difference at the highest level is the smallest differences," he added.

"Any player who plays at the World Cup, no matter what the outcome, you become a better player, you learn from it, and it helps you grow.

"The future is bright, despite the three losses. There are some good things we take and learn from to try and do better in the future.

"What makes the difference at the highest level is the smallest things, not finishing our chances and not holding onto scorelines."

Morocco coach Walid Regragui believes his team are capable of "great things" after becoming the first African team in 24 years to top a World Cup group.

The Atlas Lions finished first in Group F after beating Canada 2-1 at Al Thumama Stadium while the other pool game, between Croatia and Belgium, ended goalless.

First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri proved enough with Nayef Aguerd's own goal - the first of the tournament - nothing more than a consolation for a Canada side who return home without a point.

Regragui said: "We set ourselves an objective of giving everything we’ve got and trying to get past the group stage. We’ve done that, so why not aim for the sky?

"We’re not going to stop here, we are a very difficult team to beat, so why not dream of lifting the trophy?

"Let's not get carried away but, if we are fighting fit, we know we are capable of great things."

After a dominant first-half performance, Morocco went into their shells in the second but determination and a little luck – Canada substitute Atiba Hutchinson planting a header off the underside of the bar – saw them through.

Regragui added: "It wasn’t easy and when you have this kind of opportunity to make history you think about it.

"I thought the first half display was the best we have had in a long time. It was a shame that we allowed that own goal as it shook us. In the second half, there was pressure on us but I loved it."

Regragui was only appointed at the end of August and Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi had nothing but praise for the 47-year-old.

He said: "The coach has done an amazing job. He hasn’t had much time but he’s formed an amazing group. We trust in him."

For Canada, Thursday represented the end of a remarkable journey that saw them top the final round of CONCACAF qualifying ahead of Mexico and the United States to reach their first World Cup in 36 years.

English coach John Herdman said: "It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve got here and we’d like to have been here longer.

"We’ve enjoyed the ride, our players have turned up to compete, we’ve been fearless and we’ve had something to celebrate in every game. We’re a young team and we’re developing.

"As a football country we can be proud of the performance and the external world will be talking positively about Canada. We were front-footed and fearless.

"We raised the bar by finishing top of the CONCACAF group and we were two inches away tonight from getting our first point. We had the penalty against Belgium and battled all the way through against Croatia.

"The stats will tell you we weren’t far away. We’ll ask the hard questions as we head towards 2026 but this is not Canada walking away with our heads down, we can keep our heads up."

Morocco became the first African team to top a World Cup group for 24 years after beating Canada 2-1 on Thursday.

First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri proved enough with Nayef Aguerd's own goal - the first of the tournament - nothing more than a consolation for a Canada side who return home without a point.

Morocco must now wait for Thursday's Group E games to see who they will face in the last 16 at Education City Stadium on Tuesday.

Walid Regragui's side needed just a point to guarantee a place in the knockout stages for only the second time, and first since 1986, and they were gifted a dream start after four minutes.

Steven Vitoria’s backpass to Milan Borjan was a little short and the goalkeeper compounded the error with a heavy touch which fell nicely for Ziyech to chip the ball into an empty net from 25 yards.

Canada looked vulnerable every time Morocco came forward and more naïve defending contributed to the second goal midway through the first half.

Achraf Hakimi’s long ball from right-back exposed centre-half Kamal Miller and En-Nesyri ran on to it before firing under Borjan, who again should have done better.

Having posed no attacking threat whatsoever, Canada halved the deficit five minutes before the break. Sam Adekugbe skipped past Hakimi down the left and his low cross was diverted goalwards by the toe of Aguerd with Yassine Bounou unable to keep it out at his near post.

En-Nesyri thought he had restored Morocco’s two-goal advantage before the break, firing home after Canada had partially cleared Ziyech’s inswinging free-kick from the right but his effort was ruled out due to Aguerd blocking Borjan’s view from an offside position.

Perhaps sensing the size of their achievement, Morocco went into their shell as the second half progressed.

Alphonso Davies volleyed wide on the stretch before Canada came within inches of an equaliser after 71 minutes, 39-year-old substitute Atiba Hutchinson heading on to the underside of the bar with Alistair Johnston unable to bundle the rebound over the line.

Morocco held on, though, and a goalless draw in the other pool game between Croatia and Belgium sparked wild scenes of celebration at the final whistle.

 

Morocco boss Walid Regragui warned his team are "ready to die for it" as they look to secure a last-16 spot at the World Cup and send a Group F heavyweight home.

The Atlas Lions are on the brink of the second round after holding Croatia to a goalless draw and topping that result with a 2-0 victory against Belgium. They have recorded successive clean sheets in a World Cup for the first time since 1986, the only past finals where they went past the group stage.

Their third game in Qatar comes on Thursday against Canada, who cannot go any further after failing to pick up a point so far. Morocco may be able to qualify for the knockout phase even if they lose, such is their strong position.

Belgium, ranked second in the world, sit third in the group on three points, behind Morocco and Croatia who each have four. Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, will tackle Belgium at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, while Morocco and Canada do battle at the Al Thumama Stadium.

Regragui said his team "haven't done anything yet" and he emerged with a host of injury worries after the Belgium game, with star defenders Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saiss among his concerns.

However, the coach has no doubt over the collective will of his group.

"They're ready to die for it. That's the spirit I want to tell you about, they don't want to be benched," he said.

"We will face a hard team. They have been warning us a lot about Canada, so don't say that Canada is easy now. Canada are a great team, and we must respect them, so we can get a good result. The World Cup is not easy. We must fight towards the last minute, so that we can win."

Canada coach John Herdman has described his team's final outing at this World Cup as "a huge game". They were edged out 1-0 by Belgium before being picked apart 4-1 by Croatia, with the focus now on returning home with a consolation victory, which would be the country's first on the World Cup stage.

"We came here to make history," said Herdman. "This last game is about getting a result and winning for Canada, and really making this country believe that we're in the right direction for 2026."

Morocco have not lost in three previous meetings with Canada in all competitions (W2 D1), most recently enjoying a 4-0 friendly win in October 2016.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Canada - Alphonso Davies

After missing a penalty against Belgium, the Bayern Munich full-back made a swift impact in the Croatia game by scoring after one minute and eight seconds, giving Canada their first goal in a World Cup. He was typically dynamic and created two chances for others. Davies leads all Canada players for total ball carry distance (473 metres) and chances created (5) so far in the tournament.

Morocco - Romain Saiss

Captain Saiss made 11 clearances out of a team total of 21 against Belgium and made a tremendous nuisance of himself at Morocco's attacking free-kicks, getting a flick to Abdelhamid Sabiri's delivery to put the underdogs in front. He also won four out of four aerial duels, leading by impressive example.

PREDICTION

Stats Perform's AI model gives Morocco a 46.5 per cent chance of taking three points from this one, with the draw rated a 26.2 per cent shot. A Canada win should not be entirely written off though. Herdman's side were impressive in getting through to the World Cup and will want to show a final flourish, with their prospects of a win rated at 27.3 per cent.

John Herdman suggested he will lead Canada on home soil at the next World Cup and says their campaign in Qatar has laid the foundations for an improved showing in 2026.

Canada impressed despite losing their Group F opener against Belgium last week, but their hopes of reaching the last 16 were ended when they surrendered an early lead in Sunday's 4-1 loss to Croatia.

Herdman's team are looking to avoid the ignominy of matching El Salvador's record for the most World Cup games played without avoiding defeat (six) when they face Morocco on Thursday, but the Reds' dynamic style has won them admirers on their first appearance at the tournament since 1986.

With Canada set to join Mexico and the United States in hosting the next World Cup, Herdman is focused on helping the side continue their upward trajectory.

Asked at Wednesday's pre-match press conference whether he would be coaching the team in 2026, Herdman said: "I will be tomorrow. I will be excited tomorrow, absolutely. 

"It's been 11 years of work in this country, and I have been pioneering for a long period of time. 

"You will not find anyone as passionate as I am about this programme, or about these players or about the staff. 

"You will not find anyone as passionate, who wants to take the company to that next level. You'll not meet anyone that's experienced this moment with this team, and the learnings that I'll take from this to take into the next one. 

"The one thing you've seen from us is we've always come back strong. In [the Women's World Cup in] 2015, we finished sixth.

"In the women's Olympics in 2016 we got back-to-back podiums, for the first time in over a century. Five years later, they take a gold medal [at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics].

"We came to this World Cup and [Belgium coach] Thierry Henry told me this team played them off the park. 

"I'll take that. Because if that's our foundation, we've got a great four years ahead, and I can't wait to get after it."

Canada have not beaten Morocco in the teams' three previous meetings (D1 L2), and they suffered a comprehensive 4-0 defeat when they last faced the Atlas Lions in a 2016 friendly.

Croatia are the subject of disciplinary proceedings after Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan was targeted by supporters during their World Cup match last week.

FIFA opened proceedings on Tuesday "due to the behaviour of [Croatia's] fans".

Borjan is an ethnic Serb who was born in Knin in Croatia but fled with his family to Belgrade in 1995 during 'Operation Storm' – a Croatian offensive in its war of independence.

He later moved on to Canada, the country he represents at international level, but has spent much of his club career in Serbia, where he now plays for Red Star Belgrade.

During Croatia's 4-1 win over Canada, Borjan was the subject of a flag in the stands that read "Knin '95 – nothing runs like Borjan". Offensive chants were also reported to be aimed in his direction.

"I have nothing to comment on that, it only speaks about them," Borjan said after the game.

"I heard that they shouted and insulted me. This shows that they are primitives and should work on themselves and their families, because they obviously have some frustration, so they come here to vent it."

Andrej Kramaric thanked John Herdman for telling Canada to "'F' Croatia", saying his side "demonstrated who 'F'd' whom" in a 4-1 win.

Croatia dealt Canada their second defeat of this World Cup campaign, eliminating them from contention in Group F.

Canada had been unfortunate to lose their opener 1-0 to Belgium, and Herdman attracted attention afterwards for relaying what his message had been in the post-match huddle.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic responded by saying his team "deserve respect", and the 2018 finalists claimed to be motivated by Herdman's comments.

"I want to thank the Canada coach for the motivation," said Kramaric after scoring twice on Sunday. "In the end, Croatia demonstrated who 'F'd' whom."

The Croatia team could be heard celebrating nearby as Herdman took to the stage for his news conference, but he did not regret his comment.

"No, not at all," he said. "There's definitely a respect there for Croatia.

"As I keep saying, we're here to push as far as we can, here to change the mentality of the group. I could have been more composed coming out of the huddle, and that's part of my learning.

"I think we showed in the first 25 minutes that little Canada can compete with the best in the world.

"I don't think we gave [Croatia] an easy night. They deserved it, but we made them work for it."

According to Dalic, Herdman's "learning" should also include coming to terms with losses, as he suggested he had not heard from his opposite number following full-time.

"Whether I win or lose, I always like to congratulate the winner," Dalic said. "But he was not there, and that's his way of doing things.

"He was obviously mad. He is a high quality coach, but it will take him time to learn some things."

The evening had started so positively for Canada, who led through Alphonso Davies' second-minute header – their first World Cup goal in their fifth finals match.

"It was an amazing, amazing feeling," said captain Atiba Hutchinson. "We've wanted that for our country for a very long time.

"I always dreamt of playing in a World Cup. To see the ball hit the back of the net was great.

"In that moment, you want to continue to push on from there, and you have that feeling that this day is going to be for us. Today, it wasn't to be."

Canada were eliminated from the World Cup after just two matches despite again playing their part in an entertaining encounter as Croatia won 4-1 at Khalifa International Stadium.

Back at the finals after 36 years away, Canada thrilled in their opening game against Belgium, only to be narrowly beaten.

It looked to be a similar story again on Sunday, although Croatia were ultimately deserving winners after two goals from Andrej Kramaric and one each from Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer overturned an early Canada lead.

Alphonso Davies' opener was his country's first goal at a World Cup, but five defeats from five ends their hopes of progression as Croatia join Morocco on four points in Group F.

That wait for a breakthrough goal extended only 67 seconds into Canada's fifth finals match, with Davies meeting Tajon Buchanan's cross to head the fastest goal of the tournament so far.

Croatia soon took control, however, and after Milan Borjan twice denied Livaja either side of a disallowed Kramaric goal, two goals ahead of half-time turned the game on its head.

Borjan had no answer to Kramaric, who squeezed in another finish, and Livaja got his goal with a low effort from the edge of the box.

John Herdman's men came out for the second half with renewed optimism and went close through both substitute Jonathan Osorio and Jonathan David, but Kramaric continued to threaten and clinically picked out the bottom-left corner to settle it.

There was time for Croatia to add further gloss as poor Kamal Miller miscontrolled on halfway and gave Mislav Orsic a clear run to advance and unselfishly square to Majer.

What does it mean? Canada prove unsuccessful entertainers

Canada's tennis team clinched Davis Cup glory just before kick-off, and their countrymen did not have to wait long to celebrate again. After 50 shots without success across their prior four World Cup games, their 51st found the net through Davies.

But Croatia were themselves more effective in attack than Belgium had been and recovered from that setback to win comfortably, picking holes in the Canada defence with consummate ease.

Kramaric leads comeback

Kramaric showed his class in scoring with two of five attempts, displaying the sort of ruthless touch in front of goal that would have delivered Canada victory against Belgium, if not in this game.

This was the second match at this tournament to see a team concede first but lead before half-time, the other seeing Croatia's 2018 final conquerors France rally past Australia.

Such a swift turnaround did not occur once over the previous five World Cups combined.

Centurion looks his age

It is rare Luka Modric, at 37, is some way short of being the oldest man in a midfield battle, but Atiba Hutchinson, at 39, is the second-oldest outfield player to play at a World Cup.

While Hutchinson also became the first player to appear 100 times for Canada on Sunday, all that experience could not make up for a lack of pace that gave Croatia the run of the midfield.

What's next?

Canada are out but can still impact the rest of the group, facing Morocco as Croatia play Belgium in a winner-takes-all meeting on Thursday.

Ivan Perisic believes "the sky is the limit" for his former Bayern Munich team-mate Alphonso Davies, who he is excited to face when Croatia take on Canada at the World Cup on Sunday.

The 2018 runners-up Croatia began their Group F campaign with a goalless draw against Morocco on Wednesday, failing to score in a World Cup match for the first time since 2006 (0-0 v Japan).

That result leaves Zlatko Dalic's men needing a win when they face Canada, but Bayern's all-action full-back Davies could represent a major threat to their hopes of victory.

Davies impressed despite seeing an early penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois in Canada's 1-0 loss to Belgium, creating more chances (three) than all opposition players except Kevin De Bruyne (four), and Perisic is all too aware of the 22-year-old's quality.

"It was a pleasure to play with him on the left side, he is a powerful runner, the sky is the limit for him," Perisic said of Davies at Saturday's pre-match press conference.

"I can't wait to play against him and the others, to show what we can do. I hope for good success.

"We watched them against Belgium, how much they ran, Belgium could not respond. We have to be at that level in terms of running and aggressiveness. 

"After all, we are Croatia and if we show our game, it will be positive. I think you will see the new, real Croatia."

Meanwhile, only Luka Modric (156) and Darijo Srna (134) have bettered Perisic's tally of 117 senior caps for Croatia, and the wing-back also scored his country's first goal in their World Cup final defeat to France four years ago.

Perisic will be 35 by the time Euro 2024 comes around, but he is yet to give any consideration to whether this tournament will be his last.

"The focus is on this match, and I don't know where I will be in two or four years," he added.

"I'm going game by game, my goal is to play as much as possible and work slowly every day."

Canada's 1-0 defeat to Belgium was "statistically", according to John Herdman, "a winning performance" – and it is easy to see why he thinks that.

Canada attempted 22 shots, twice as many as their previous World Cup record (11 versus USSR in 1986), with their attempts worth a combined 2.6 expected goals.

Belgium's chances were worth 0.8 xG, but they crucially scored through Michy Batshuayi.

Canada still have not scored a World Cup goal from 50 shots. No team have played more finals matches (four) without ever finding the net, while only Bolivia have previously failed to register in their first five such fixtures.

Another "winning performance" against Croatia will count for little if they cannot end that drought.

 

"It's those behaviours that we'll continue to work on," coach Herdman said. "That's what the players see in the review meeting [after the Belgium game].

"And we've got to close some gaps going into this meeting with Croatia, who are a hell of a team."

That more measured praise of Croatia was slightly at odds with Herdman's emotions immediately post-match, when he called on his Canada players to "'F'" their next opponents.

"The gentleman expressed himself that way, that is his right," responded Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. "I won't dwell on that. We have to speak on the field.

"Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves. I just don't know how nice it is to say something like that. I will discuss it with the players. It can only motivate us."

It is easy to see why Herdman might have been confident, though, if he had taken in Croatia's goalless draw against Morocco.

The 2018 finalists had just five shots in that match, their lowest total in a single World Cup contest. They averaged 16.1 shots per game in Russia.

Still, Canada have lost each of their first four World Cup games and will be eliminated if that sequence continues against Croatia.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia – Josko Gvardiol

Not many Croatia players stood out against Morocco, but Gvardiol was one. He set Croatia World Cup records for passes attempted (115) and completed (102), although he might have more work to do defensively in this encounter based on Canada's first display. It is an opportunity to impress for a man linked with a host of Europe's leading clubs.

Canada – Jonathan David

Alphonso Davies may have passed up Canada's clearest chance from the penalty spot, but David will similarly rue a wasteful opening display. He had seven shots against Belgium, all from inside the box, but missed the target with each of them. It was only the second example since 1966 of a player taking all of his seven shots from inside the area yet failing to trouble the goalkeeper (also Italy's Paolo Barison against North Korea in 1966).

PREDICTION

Even in defeat, Canada were one of the more impressive performers of the opening round of matches, but they are still facing the finalists from the last World Cup – and the supercomputer's forecast bears that out.

Croatia are 47.0 per cent favourites, according to Stats Perform's AI model, with Canada given a 27.0 per cent chance and the draw rated a shade more unlikely at 26.0 per cent.

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic has lashed out at World Cup organisers and Canada boss John Herdman, stating his side "deserve respect".

The 2018 World Cup finalists opened their Qatar 2022 campaign with a goalless draw against Morocco in Group F, which kicked off at 1pm local time on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of his side's next match however, Dalic hit out at FIFA, suggesting his team should have been handed a cooler, more favourable late-day slot for their match as incumbent runners-up.

"The fact that we played the first match at 1pm disturbed our rhythm," he stated. "I attribute our lack of energy in that first match to the early kick-off.

"The fact that Croatia plays at 1pm is not respectful. England, Spain, France and Brazil are not playing at that time. We are the runners-up in the [last] World Cup. This is not the attitude towards Croatia that it should be."

Dalic previously struck a more neutral tone over opposite number Herdman's comments, where he said his team must "F" Croatia after a narrow defeat to Belgium, despite arguably outplaying their European opponents.

However, he proved more angered by the words this time around, reinforcing again: "Croatia deserves respect from everyone. We have earned it with our games and results. 

"I will not pay attention to any comments. We will get ready and play football and be dignified towards Canada as well as towards others. But we deserve respect."

Herdman, meanwhile, is relishing the chance to face Croatia, adding: "It's a hell of a test for this team. We are excited. We have a hell of a match coming."

Belgium "need to improve" if they are to stand a realistic chance of going deep at the 2022 World Cup, according to defender Toby Alderweireld.

It was Alderweireld's long pass that created the only goal of the game for Michy Batshuayi as Belgium struggled to make much headway against an athletic and well-drilled Canada team.

Alphonso Davies saw an early penalty saved by Red Devils goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Canada also squandered a host of first-half chances as Belgium held on to a precious win to take an early lead at the top of Group F.

Alderweireld said: "We didn't play our best game, but we fought hard, especially in the second half and it's better to improve things with three points in the bag than no points.

"We weren't good enough on the ball, we didn't create the right spaces and in the second half we could have hurt them a lot more. Our last pass has to be a lot better.

"The first step is to get through but we need to improve."

Alderweireld's sentiments were shared by fellow defender Timothy Castagne, who felt Canada's no-fear approach made them tricky opponents.

The Leicester City full-back said: "We were expecting that, it's not easy to play against.

"We tried to play through them but we could not find the free men. When we did, we had some good opportunities but couldn't finish them.

"We can thank Thibaut for keeping us in the game first half. After that we defended pretty strong together, which hasn't always been our strongest suit so that's good."

With Argentina and Germany having already lost in Qatar to unheralded opponents, Castagne was just pleased Belgium avoided joining the ranks of beaten favourites, adding: "If you get the win, you get confidence even if it wasn't our best game.

"Some big teams have lost so it's good to get off to a good start points-wise."

While Belgium were relieved, it was a night of pride and frustration for Canada. They emerged with enormous credit, inspired by the shrewd leadership of head coach John Herdman, but will rue their profligacy in front of goal.

Defender Steven Vitoria said: "We deserved more against a world-class side. When we play like that we'll be a lot closer to winning than anything else. It was a fantastic performance but at this level you have to get the win.

"The intention is to be fearless on the biggest stage, this is a new Canada and we gave that statement to the world. But no excuses, we're here to win and we're not satisfied."

Michy Batshuayi scored the only goal as Belgium scraped past a spirited Canada 1-0 in their 2022 World Cup opener at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium.

Leading the line in Romelu Lukaku’s absence, Batshuayi's 44th-minute strike was enough to settle a nervy Group F clash in the Red Devils' favour.

Roberto Martinez's side were grateful to Thibaut Courtois, who saved an early Alphonso Davies penalty, as they generally struggled against the nation ending their 36-year absence from the finals.

Nevertheless, Belgium stretched their group-stage winning streak to eight matches, with no side enjoying a longer run in the competition's history (level with Brazil).

Belgium endured a shaky start against the Canucks, who were awarded a penalty when VAR ruled Yannick Carrasco had handled Tajon Buchanan's shot in the box, but Courtois guessed correctly to keep out Davies' tame spot-kick by diving to his right.

The first coach to guide a nation to both the women's and men's World Cups, John Herdman saw his side continue to carry the greater attacking threat. Alistair Johnston stung Courtois' palms with a fierce strike, while Buchanan and Atiba Hutchinson were off target.

But Belgium snatched the lead against the run of play just before half-time; Batshuayi latching onto Toby Alderweireld's long ball before firing past Milan Borjan.

Though they edged possession, Belgium continued to look off their game as they registered just one shot on target after the break.

Canada looked to capitalise with the introduction of top scorer Cyle Larin, whose header called Courtois into action with 10 minutes remaining, but they were unable to find an equaliser as their opponents held on for a narrow victory.

What does it mean? Belgium struggle against spirited Canada

Although far from their fluent best, Belgium moved to the Group F summit following Croatia's goalless draw with Morocco earlier on.

Despite the defeat, it was a historic day for Canada, who returned to the finals after 36 years away and were unfortunate not to break their duck after Davies' saved penalty.

Meanwhile, captain Hutchinson became the oldest outfield starter in World Cup history – aged 39 years and 288 days.

Batshuayi steps up

With Lukaku's return date uncertain, Batshuayi stepped up to the plate with his 27th international goal in 49 caps – moving him joint-sixth with Joseph Mermans on his country's all-time list.

The Fenerbahce forward's well-taken strike came from one of five shots on goal – a tally only bettered on the night by Canada's Jonathan David (six)

History for Courtois

No player has appeared more times for Belgium at a major tournament than Courtois (23, level with Jan Ceulemans).

The Real Madrid goalkeeper also edged closer to becoming the Red Devils' seventh centurion by earning his 98th cap, and he celebrated the milestone with a clean sheet, as well as superb reflexes to deny Davies from the spot.

What's next?

Both sides are back in Group F action on Sunday. Belgium will look to produce an improved performance against Morocco, while Canada cannot afford another defeat against 2018 finalists Croatia.

Roberto Martinez has revealed Romelu Lukaku will miss Belgium's World Cup opener against Canada and may not play any part in the group stage.

The striker has endured a frustrating start to his second spell with Inter after returning on a season-long loan from Chelsea.

Lukaku has made only five appearances for the Serie A club this season, spending two months on the sidelines with a thigh injury before suffering another setback last month.

The Red Devils' record goalscorer is not ready for the encounter with Canada at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Wednesday and Martinez says there are no guarantees he will be ready for the Group F matches against Morocco and Croatia.

The Belgium head coach said on Tuesday: "We're very happy the way that he is progressing. He had a very good session yesterday, not with a group, but is progressing in a steady way. We haven't got a timeline.

"I wouldn't be able to tell if he's going to be the second game or the third game. If I follow the medical advice, at this point it would be the third game. If I follow how the player feels, probably we’ve got a chance for the second game."

Eden Hazard has also had fitness issues since making a big-money move to Real Madrid, where he has failed to make the impact that was expected of him.

Martinez is backing his captain to show what he can do on the international stage once again.

"It's been a tough situation in terms of the playing minutes," the Spaniard said. "We are a better team when Eden Hazard is in our dressing room, that's for sure."

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