World Cup 2022: Team Canada warms up for historic match

Canadian soccer fans are used to wearing other countries' jerseys during the FIFA World Cup - but this year is different. The young and promising Canadian team will take to the world stage for the first time in 36 years on Wednesday, setting the nation up for a historic journey, whatever the outcome.

One of the earliest Canadian football memories for John Settino is when Italy won the World Cup in 1982.

Dozens of fans flooded the streets of downtown Toronto in a spontaneous and emotional celebration, honking car horns and waving green, white and red flags.

"If you look at the picture, it blows your mind," said Settino, an Italian-Canadian who was born and raised in the city. "There were hundreds of thousands of people celebrating the victory."

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

Since then, Settino has joined the many Canadians who cheered on their ancestral home team during the tournament, congregating in the bustling Little Italy or Little Portugal neighborhoods, where a win sparks jubilant celebrations and boisterous block parties.

Canada's multicultural community has long been at the heart of football fandom in a country where athletic prowess on the world stage is often recognized for other sports, such as ice hockey.

In recent years, however, soccer in Canada has experienced a renaissance.

"[Football] was so lacking at a professional level in Canada when I first arrived," said Kristian Jack, a football analyst who moved from England to Canada 22 years ago.

The sport's popularity has exploded, he says, thanks in part to the formation of professional Major League Soccer teams in Canada's largest cities. This gives fans a new way to experience the game and players a chance to hone their skills.

Now, Canada has a national team filled with high caliber players who are challenging the odds and advancing to the world's biggest sporting event for the first time since 1986.

And fans like Pak Settino are excited to wear red and white and cheer "Forza Canada!"

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

Italy has surprisingly fallen behind this year, and the question of who Mr Settino will support is an easy one: "For me, always Canada comes first."

The excitement was palpable on the streets of Toronto, where viewing parties were already booked for Canada's first game on Wednesday against Belgium.

At Cafe Diplomatico, a mainstay in the city of Little Italy for the past 55 years, owner Rocco Mastrangelo says he's planning a big street party despite the chilly November, complete with heated tents and a DJ.

The Canadian team faced a tough challenge in the first round, as Belgium was consistently ranked as one of FIFA's top teams.

But Team Canada has built a reputation of its own, and has become known for its forward, aggressive style of play and surprising finishing.

The interesting part also lies in the players themselves.

"It's a really good group of human players," said Mr Jack.

One of the star players is 22-year-old Alphonso Davies. Born in a refugee camp in Ghana, Davies started his football career as a youth in the prairie province of Alberta and then played for the Vancouver Whitecaps before he was sought after by Bundesliga club Bayern Munich.

Mr Davies is not only known as one of the best fullbacks in the world for his pace and creativity, he has also emerged as a vocal defender of human rights. He is the first footballer and Canadian to serve as spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mr Davies announced earlier this year that he would donate all World Cup earnings to charity.

"Each player's story is very different, but they are bound by the fact that they have to be professional players from Canada," said Mr Jack. It was a journey that, for many, was fraught with challenges, he said.

Only European and South American teams have ever won the World Cup and advancing through the tournament will undoubtedly be a rocky feat for Canada.

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

Many have been inspired by what the men's team has achieved, added Jack. Canada is one of the host countries for the 2026 World Cup, so this year's journey is just the beginning.

"The World Cup, where they are going, is the top of the mountain," he said. "But for football in this country, this is just basecamp."This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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