Cache Creek’s David Dubois takes in the action in Qatar as Canada plays in its first men’s World Cup since 1986. (Photo credit: David Dubois)

Cache Creek’s David Dubois takes in the action in Qatar as Canada plays in its first men’s World Cup since 1986. (Photo credit: David Dubois)

In Qatar, Canadian fans prepare to keep singing despite losses

Canada was considered a longshot to make it to the World Cup, but men’s team overcame the odds

By David Dubois

To use a trite phrase, what a difference a week makes. In the lead-up to the first Canada match at the 2022 World Cup we were like a bunch of little kids waiting to open presents under the Christmas tree.

One of the things people do not always realize is that the soccer game is the culmination of a full day. In the case of the Canada vs Belgium game, the day started around 1 p.m. with a two-hour bus/metro/Uber to Canada house. At Soccer Canada House, approximately 300 fans came together around the pool bar at the Hilton to drink, eat, and be merry.

Once the pump was primed, there was the 1.25-hour Uber/metro ride to the stadium. The plan was for a number of similar groups to meet and descend on the stadium. Unfortunately, security had some different ideas, and as soon as we arrived we were herded into the stadium.

Most teams arrive about 1.5 hours before match time, walk the pitch, and then get ready to go. For us it was extremely important to be there to greet the players with a sea of maple leaves and strong voices. All I can say is that I felt goosebumps, and I was so happy to be Canadian and grateful to be able to attend.

Before long the teams had completed their warm-up and went back for one last pep talk. Then came the moment when the teams marched into the stadium and we got to sing “O Canada” with thousands of other Canadian fans in Qatar at the FREAKING WORLD CUP. The 10 p.m. start of the game was a blur of singing, chanting, and movement.

Then it happened: penalty kick. We had a chance to score our first ever World Cup goal. It was so early in the game that most people in Vancouver would not even have been in their seats yet. The man who grabbed the ball was the same one who has been driving this Canadian team: Alphonso Davies.

Picture this 22-year-old, 10 minutes into his first World Cup on the biggest sporting stage in the world. The timing was not right yet, and it did not help that he was facing the world’s best goalie, who stands 6’7”. The rest of the game was almost a never-ending series of gut-wrenching chances for Canada, with only one single chance for Belgium, who showed why they are considered one of the top teams in the world.

In the end we lost the game but captured the attention of the world that we were here. Those who know me know I can be loud, and by the end my throat was gone and I could barely speak. The walk to the bus was slow, and despite the disappointment of losing there was optimism for the future.

Over the next few days there was strong feeling from many neutrals that they felt Canada could advance. There was even talk about changing flights to stay longer.

Canada’s next match was against Croatia: another strong opponent that actually played in the finals of the 2018 World Cup, and has one of the few world’s-best players not named Christian Ronaldo or Messi. This game started with the same pre-match prep, but at a slightly less luxurious location. The march to the metro started it in great form, until — while changing trains in the metro — a slight wrong turn required a smaller reset. It was reminiscent of the scene from Animal House where the marching band gets trapped in the alley.

Eventually we made it into the stadium and were able to greet the team. The difference was that it was clear the Croatians were also there in force.

As before, Canada got off to a fast start. We were still in our first chant and then it happened. Alphonso Davies scored for Canada, and it was surreal. There was hugging, clapping, and high fives, and no one cared that there was not a drop of hand sanitizer in sight.

Our energy continued to carry us, but as time continued the Croatians and their fans began to show their experience and skill and just wore us down. They put our team under pressure and really showed what it means to play soccer at the highest levels. In the end, and despite all the cheering and yelling, there was nothing to be done.

This time the walk to the bus was even longer and harder as the realization settled in that we had been eliminated from the World Cup. Once I was back at the fan festival I was in time to watch the last half of the match between two powerhouses: Spain vs Germany. As I watched, Germany was able to get a last minute goal for the tie: their only point after two games.

I started to remember that three years ago, Canada simply reaching the World Cup was not in the cards. Even Soccer Canada, and their jersey sponsor Nike, did not consider the possibility. Most jersey development takes two to two-and-a-half years to get to market. Canada was the only team without a new jersey at the World Cup. That is how much of a long shot people thought it was.

As we look forward there is still unfinished business. One of Canada’s goals was to … score a goal. The other goal was to win a game. We have one game left to do that. It is a game against Morocco, who tied Croatia and beat Belgium. I will be there, my voice will be there, and with the fellow Voyageurs we will sing to the end. “Ohhh Aaah Canada, say oh ah Canada.”

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