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A snapshot of the rowdy fans who welcomed the Canadian men’s soccer team to BMO Field in downtown Toronto for the CONCACAF World Cup soccer qualifying game against Jamaica

Canada faces Jamaica during the FIFA World Cup CONCACAF qualifier match at BMO Field in Toronto on Sunday March, 27.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Early Sunday afternoon outside BMO Field in downtown Toronto, amid hundreds of rowdy fans anticipating a Canadian Heritage Minute come to life, one man’s hand-scrawled sign took the measure of the country: “36 Years in the Making.” The last (and only) time the Canadian men’s national soccer team qualified for the World Cup was Sept. 14, 1985, in St. John’s, when both the country’s game and the country itself looked very different.

Still, for those not paying attention over the intervening decades, the change in the country’s on-field prospects has been stunning.

The team gathers for a pre-game huddle with The Voyageurs, the unofficial fan club of Canada Soccer, before kickoff.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

If you want a snapshot of how quickly the Canadian men’s soccer team has captured the public’s imagination, look no further than the Voyageurs, the unofficial fan club of Canada Soccer.

Last fall, when the men’s team began its extraordinary run to World Cup qualification, there were perhaps a few hundred members of the club, according to Voyageurs president Jamie MacLeod. Heading into Sunday’s match, the Voyageurs were 3,500 strong, and counting.

Four hours before the 4 p.m. ET kickoff, Mr. MacLeod and a crew of about 20 who had travelled from across the country braved the swirling wind and snow flurries to spangle the seats in the stadium’s south-end stands with 1,000 Canadian flags. Volunteers had assembled the flags during a handful of parties over the week in Regina, Edmonton, Toronto and Hamilton.

Down on the field, a pair of workers armed with leaf blowers began clearing away a layer of ice chips that had settled overnight on the pitch. Around the stadium, the seats were blanketed with snow, left for the patrons themselves to clear away.

As the Canadian team’s bus pulled up to the stadium, hundreds of Voyageurs and others chanted lustily, unleashing a flurry of smoke bombs that turned the air thick and apocalyptic with red and yellow and grey clouds. Later, when the bus of the opposing Jamaican team rolled up, boos rang out. Someone in the crowd lobbed a single snowball that smacked against a bus window.

Canada's team bus gets a warm reception by fans upon arrival to the stadium.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

In the production truck of Mediapro, the Spanish company whose Canadian streaming service OneSoccer has covered the team’s entire qualifying run, a tight crew of 10 ran through final rehearsals and preparations. How important would the game be?

“If you would want me to place something higher: Toronto-Montreal, Game 7, Stanley Cup final,” suggested Bruce Whiteford, a 62 year-old technical producer.

Never mind hockey, at least for an afternoon: Soccer is now Canada’s game. When Cyle Larin, the striker from Brampton, Ont., scored Canada’s first goal 13 minutes into the match en route to victory and a World Cup berth, a chant broke out among the Voyageurs: “If you love Brampton, clap your hands.” It’s possible there was an approving adjectival expletive in there somewhere.

Fans brave the cold to welcome Canada’s men’s national soccer team at BMO Field in Toronto ahead of the match.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Arm in arm, the team sings the national anthem with the help of a full capacity crowd at BMO Field.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Canada's Cyle Larin Cyle Larin, the striker from Brampton, Ont., puts the ball past Jamaican goalkeeper Jason Blake to score Canada's first goal in the 13th minute.GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Canada's Tajon Buchanan celebrates his goal against Jamaica in the first half with a backflip.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Canada's Junior Hoilett celebrates with teammates after scoring Canada's third goal.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Fans celebrate a historic victory after Canada qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986 with a 4-0 win.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

After the final whistle, team members rush on to the field to celebrate defeating Jamaica 4-0 in their World Cup qualifying match.GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Canada’s goalkeeper Milan Borjan sprays head coach John Herdman with celebratory champagne after Canadian men’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Players gather around a banner reading "qualified" to celebrate their win over Jamaica at BMO Field to clinch qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Fans celebrate the win that will send Canada to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail


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