For Canadian football fans, the joy of seeing their country play in the men’s World Cup for the first time in 36 years turned to disappointment on Wednesday as their team fell short.
Even though Canada lost 1-0 to Belgium, many fans who gathered at viewing parties across the country said they were inspired by the team’s performance.
Felicia Wall, who watched the match at the Croatian Cultural Center in Vancouver with her brother Nik, said she was proud, regardless of the result.
“It’s great to see all of our nation able to cheer for Canada instead of Italy, or Germany, or wherever we’ve had to cheer before, and to really feel this nation coming together for one team… it’s so inspiring,” said Wall, wearing red shirt with Canadian logo.
The pubs and restaurants on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive were packed with fans hoping to see the Canadian football team score its first World Cup goal. During halftime, fans took to the streets to wave flags and chant “Canada”, as cars honked in support.
It’s a moment some fans say they’ve been waiting their whole lives for.
Morgan Stacey, who was not born the last time Canada was at the World Cup, said it felt “absolutely amazing” to support Team Canada. “It’s the first time in my life to see them compete in this tournament,” he said. Stacey, 28, watched at the Burgundy Lion Pub in Montreal, which had been packed since kickoff, with more eager fans waiting to get in.
As Canada prepared to shoot for an early penalty, fans were on the edge of their seats, screaming as star winger Alphonso Davies lined up for the shot. Excitement turned to disappointment when the Belgian keeper stopped his attempt.
Students at St. Catholic Middle School Nicholas in Edmonton, where Davies attended school and played in the school’s football academy, said seeing their favorite alumni play on the biggest stage in world football was inspiring.
“It’s an incredible thought that someone from Edmonton, Alberta, go to St. Nic’s and reach such a high level with such an amazing footballer. It inspires me that I can do the same,” said Malik McDonald, 13, a student at football academy that plays as a striker.
Students at school filled the gym where the Canadian star used to play and watch games on giant screens.
“It’s really motivating, because someone in my position to go this far in their career, gives you hope that you can do it, if you try hard enough,” said Mary Mahe, a St. Louis student. Another Nicholas.
In Montreal, which is home to a large Belgian community, not all fans watching support Canada. When Belgium scored the only goal of the game there was enthusiastic cheering at the Burgundy Lions, but some of the cheers were marred by disappointment.
“It was close. I suffered a lot with all the Canadians around me because I love Canada, but I’m happy that Belgium won,” said Nicolas Spieckerman, 42, from Belgium.
Fellow Belgian David Dejean, 44, had a similar assessment. “I’m disappointed with my Canadian friends. We didn’t deserve to win,” he said.
Even though Canada trailed late in the first half, the fans remained hopeful throughout the match.
Canadian women’s captain Christine Sinclair, who was among dozens of fans watching the game at an electronics shop at the Eaton Center in Toronto, said she had waited her whole life to see the Canadian men on the World Cup court. He thought they had a chance to make it to the next stage of the tournament.
“I was really impressed with Canada’s performance. They played pretty well, overall, dominating Belgium,” said Sinclair, 39, at halftime. “But unfortunately sport is cruel, and there’s a reason why Belgium are one of the top teams in the world. They got one chance and put it in the back or the net. Now Canada has to catch up.”
A men’s World Cup appearance “will only help the sport thrive here in Canada,” he added.
Canada’s next game is on Sunday morning against 2018 finalists Croatia.
With files from Marisela Amador in Montreal, Bob Weber in Edmonton, Sharif Hassan in Toronto and Nono Shen in Vancouver.
“Coffee enthusiast. Hipster-friendly social media fanatic. Certified zombie expert. Problem solver.”