Canadian soccer fans in Winnipeg didn’t lament the national men’s soccer team’s effort, just the result.
Fans packed the King’s Head Pub on Wednesday afternoon to witness Canada’s return to the FIFA men’s World Cup — 36 years after the country’s lone appearance — only to watch second-ranked Belgium eke out a 1-0 win in Qatar.
Despite opening Group F play with a loss, fans were overjoyed to witness Canada’s return to the sport’s grandest stage.
“It’s amazing just to be at the World Cup,” Jane Preston told CBC News.
Preston attended one of Canada’s CONCACAF qualifiers against Costa Rica in 1986. She said there were more Costa Rican fans in Toronto for that match than Canadian fans.
Preston believes the biggest difference between then and now is the support the team has.
She thought 41st-ranked Canada would come away an upset victory over the Belgians, but was happy to partake in the watch party with her son Tanner.
“I haven’t ever watched a World Cup game with Canada in it before, so it’s amazing,” Tanner said.
He wasn’t the only one watching Canada compete at the World Cup for the first time.
Karl Giersch grew up playing soccer, and said the sport always provided opportunities to bond and create friendships.
“I’m super amped. I love watching sports,” Giersch said. “Seeing Team Canada out there on the pitch brought a tear to my eye.”
Three hundred people at the King’s Head in Winnipeg have stepped away from work for a minute or 105 to watch the first Canadian World Cup match in 36 years. <a href=”https://t.co/fOK4F9pV0e”>pic.twitter.com/fOK4F9pV0e</a>
Grade 4 student Bram Klassen was taken out of school so he could watch the Canada-Belgium match alongside his dad.
“For me, it’s once in a lifetime to watch it,” the nine-year-old said.
For those students who didn’t miss class for the game, Ankit Modha hopes schools afforded them the opportunity to watch Canada play.
“I hope the schools are showing this to the kids because this is an older generation [of players].” Modha said.
He wishes he was in Qatar, but said he wouldn’t have missed watching the match for anything.
Canada suffered shutout losses to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union in its World Cup debut in 1986, and despite failing to score a goal against Belgium, Modha believes Canada’s future in the sport is bright.
“I can’t wait to see the players progress and Canada as a country progress in soccer,” he said. “I think we have what it takes to be one of the top countries.”
The Canadians were given a golden opportunity to net that first-ever World Cup goal and take the lead in the 10th minute, but Alphonso Davies’ penalty attempt was thwarted by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Canada was awarded the penalty after Yannick Carrasco was yellow-carded for a hand ball.
Canada dominated play for much of the opening half, but Michy Batshuayi halted the Canadian momentum, scoring for Belgium in the 44th minute. It stood up as the only goal of the game.
Belgian fan Josh Mebrat didn’t think the choice of 22-year-old Davies taking the penalty was the wrong one, but believes Belgium’s experience was the difference in the game.
“Canada, at the end of the day, doesn’t have that World Cup experience that hopefully they’ll get this time,” Mebrat said.
He believes Canada is the second-best team in Group F, despite being well below group members Croatia (12th) and Morocco (22nd) in FIFA’s world rankings.
After a hard-fought loss to second-ranked Belgium, Mahith Gamage believes Canada should not be underestimated in the final two group matches.
“We’re the underdogs in every game we’re going to play,” he said. “What this team proved to us in qualifying is that they work miracles. They can do whatever they want so the quality is there.
“They have the belief in the coach. That’s all they need.”
The Canadians will look to find the back of the net in their next match, which takes place Sunday against 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia at 10 a.m. Their final group-stage match is against Morocco at 9 a.m. on Dec. 1.
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