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Team Canada prepares for historic game

Team Canada prepares for historic game

Alistair Johnson, a member of the Canadian football team heading to Qatar, poses before the team’s farewell at Cafe Diplomatico in Toronto’s Little Italy.

Soccer World Cup

Host country: Qatar. Dates: November 20 – December 18. Broadcasts: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Full coverage information

Canadian football fans are used to wearing jerseys from other countries during the World Cup, but this year is different. On Wednesday, a young, promising Canadian team will play on the world stage for the first time in 36 years, preparing the country for a historic run, regardless of the outcome.

One of John Settino’s earliest football memories in Canada was Italy winning the World Cup in 1982.

Dozens of fans throng downtown Toronto for a spontaneous, emotional celebration, honking cars and waving green, white and red flags.

“If you look at his photographs, it will blow your mind,” said Mr Settino, an Italian-Canadian born and raised in the city. “Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated the victory.”

There were 300,000 people, making it one of the largest World Cup celebrations in Canada at the time.

Since then, Mr. Settino has joined the many Canadians who cheer for their ancestral teams during the tournament, congregating in the bustling areas of Little Italy or Little Portugal, where victories spark loud celebrations and vibrant parties.

Canada’s multicultural communities have long been the heart of the country’s football fans, whose sportsmanship on the world stage is often recognized in other sports such as ice hockey.

But in recent years, football in Canada has been experiencing something of a renaissance.

“[Football] at a professional level in Canada when I first arrived was virtually non-existent,” said Christian Jack, a football analyst who moved from the UK to Canada 22 years ago.

The sport has exploded in popularity since then, he says, thanks in part to the creation of major league professional football teams in Canada’s major cities. This gave fans a new way to experience the game and players the opportunity to hone their skills.

Canada now has a national team of high-profile players who have defied the odds and entered the world’s biggest sporting event for the first time since 1986.

And he has fans like Mr. Settino who are happy to wear red and white and cheer for Forza Canada!

“I used to joke with people that my two [sports] The worlds will never collide because Italy will never play Canada in hockey and Canada will never play Italy in football,” Settino said.

Italy has surprisingly not moved forward this year, and the question of who Mr Settino will back is simple: “For me, Canada always comes first.”

Excitement is evident on the streets of Toronto, where parties have already been scheduled to watch Canada’s first game against Belgium on Wednesday.

At Cafe Diplomatico, the city’s Little Italy stronghold for the past 55 years, owner Rocco Mastrangelo said that despite the November chill, he planned a big outdoor party with a heated tent and DJ.

Team Canada faces serious challenges in their first round as Belgium consistently ranks among FIFA’s top teams.

But Team Canada developed a reputation of its own and became known for their assertive, aggressive play style and unexpected finishes.

Part of the interest also lies with the players themselves.

“This is a group of players who are very, very good people,” Mr. Jack said.

One of the star players is 22-year-old Alphonso Davis. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana, Davies began his football career as a boy in the prairie province of Alberta and went on to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps before being scouted by Bundesliga club Bayern Munich.

Mr. Davis is known not only as one of the best cornerbacks in the world for his speed and creativity, but also as an outspoken human rights activist. He is the first footballer and Canadian to serve as a spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Earlier this year, Davis announced that he would donate all of his World Cup earnings to charity.

“The stories of all the players are very different, but they share the fact that they had to become a professional player from Canada,” said Mr. Jack. He noted that this journey was fraught with difficulties for many.

Only European and South American teams have ever won the World Cup and advancing in the tournament will no doubt be a difficult feat for Canada.

But their run promises to be noticeable.

Canada has never scored a goal in a World Cup. Any player who does this will go down in history – joining the likes of Christine Sinclair, who helped win the country’s first-ever women’s soccer gold medal at the recent Tokyo Olympics.

Mr. Jack added that many were inspired by what the men’s team had already been able to achieve. Canada is one of the host countries of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, so this year’s run is just the beginning.

“The World Cup they’re going to is the top of the mountain,” he said. “But for football in this country, it’s just a base camp.”

Get the latest scores and goal alerts for any team in the World Cup by downloading the BBC Sport: Apple appandroidAmazon

Get your daily dose of World Cup reaction, debate and analysis with World Cup Daily on BBC Sounds.

Written by khirou

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