Canada missed a penalty and were controversially denied two more as Michy Batshuayi's strike condemned them to a narrow defeat against Belgium on their first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
Having finished third in the 2018 finals and boasting talent such as Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois, Belgium have been tipped to go deep into the tournament once more.
But they had to settle for a scrappy 1-0 victory at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Batshuayi’s strike on the stroke of half-time proving the difference as Canada failed to score despite having 22 shots on goal.
The North American’s missed from the spot as Bayern Munich forward Alphonso Davies’ weak effort was saved by Courtois, before controversial official Janny Sikazwe turned down two further strong penalty shouts in the first-half.
The Zambian official came to prominence after twice blowing for full-time before the 90th minute in an Africa Cup of Nations fixture earlier this year and his decisions here left Canada tasting a bitter defeat.
Englishman John Herdman worked wonders to get Canada to their first World Cup since 1986 – becoming the first manager to coach teams at both the men’s and women’s World Cup in the process.
But his players certainly did not wilt under the pressure, often outplaying their European counterparts and putting down a marker in their attempt to qualify from Group F.
A strong start would pay dividends as a Tajon Buchanan shot from the edge of the box hit the arm of Yannick Carrasco, a penalty eventually awarded by Sikazwe after consulting his pitchside monitor.
After a long wait, Davies’ tame penalty was easily saved by Courtois and the rebound blazed over the top as Canada passed up a fine chance to take a shock lead.