It was a moment some Canadian soccer fans have said they’ve waited their entire lives for: to see their country at the World Cup.
At parties across the country, fans gathered on Wednesday to cheer on the national team as they made their first appearance at an international football tournament since 1986.
FIFA World Cup: Canada lost 1-0 to Belgium
Morgan Stacey, who was not born when Canada last competed at the World Cup, said cheering for Team Canada felt “pretty incredible”.
“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve seen them compete in this tournament,” he said. “I’m pretty excited!”
Stacey, 28, was among at least 150 spectators who watched Canada take on Belgium at the Burgundy Lion pub in Montreal.
“We’ve waited so long for this day,” said Tristan Scandar, 23, who traveled to personally cheer for the Canada team in a qualifier against Honduras. “Many Canadians have waited a long time. So let’s hope we do well today.”
As Canada prepared for a penalty early in the game, fans were on the edge of their seats screaming and screaming as star winger Alphonso Davies lined up for the shot. Excitement turned to dismay when the Belgian goalkeeper stopped the attempt.
There were divided loyalties for some fans, including members of Montreal’s large Belgian community. Noel Fourcroy, 42, a Belgian who has lived in Montreal for 15 years, said he has roots in his home country.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s a very unique moment because it’s my country of origin and my country of adoption. It’s a strange mix. I confess that I’m sticking with Belgium today, but I’ll be very happy to follow Canada afterwards,” said Fourcroy.
At St. Nicholas Catholic Junior High in Edmonton, where Davies attended the school’s football academy and played, students filled a gym where the Canadian star used to play to cheer on their favorite student.
A giant screen was set up and the children along with the team joined in on the screen for a loud and raucous version of O Canada. A giant drum, like the ones the team brings out at the end of games, rumbled along.
Malik McDonald, 13, a football academy student who plays as a forward, admitted he sometimes models himself after Davies.
“It’s incredible that someone from Edmonton, Alberta could go to St. Nic’s and make it to such a high level with such great footballers. It just inspires me that I could do the same,” he said.
Loyalties torn in Montreal ahead of the FIFA World Cup match between Canada and Belgium
Mary Mahe, another St Nicholas student, said it was inspirational to see someone from her school perform on the world’s biggest football stage.
“It’s really motivating because someone in my own position has come so far in their career that it gives you hope that if you just try hard enough, you could make it.”
In downtown Toronto, where dozens of fans stood in front of big screens at an electronics store in the Eaton Centre, recent surprises during the tournament gave fans hope.
Mohammad Ali, who was watching the game with friends, said if Saudi Arabia can beat Argentina and Japan Germany, Canada can beat Belgium too.
“I think we win the whole thing,” he said. “I love the team too much and I love the country too much to say that everyone else will beat us.”
Another fan, Rob Harris, said although Belgium are favourites, the Canadian team might have luck on their side.
“I think they can win it,” he said. “Canada were lucky to come into the game, to get into the World Cup, the fact that they got into the World Cup means they’re a lucky team.”
Belgium are currently favorites to win Group F, which also includes 2018 finalists Croatia and Morocco, who are ranked No. 22 in the world. However, without star striker Romelu Lukaku, who has not played a game for almost a month due to a thigh injury.
Canada is 41st in the FIFA rankings, with Belgium second.
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