In the Oakwood Avenue bars around Little Jamaica in Toronto, it seemed like the whole world was rooting for Canada.
“Yes!” said Justino Violante, fist-bumping his friends at Neiva’s Sports Bar, after watching Team Canada score its first goal on Sunday en route to a 4-0 rout of Jamaica, a victory that put Canada in this year’s World Cup.
The 48-year-old hails from Cape Verde off the coast of Africa but immigrated to Toronto in the mid-1980s. That was back when Canada last qualified for the World Cup.
Now, nearly 40 years later, his eyes welled up with pride when he heard the opening strains of O Canada played at the match held in Toronto. “In soccer, everything is possible,” said Violante, talking about how he played the game in the snow as an immigrant child.
“It’s a democratic sport in a true sense,” said his friend Acacio Van. The 47-year-old, originally hailing from Angola, said that country’s 2006 World Cup berth had its citizens dancing in the streets.
“This will be like the Raptors,” said Nuno Miguel, a 44-year-old Portuguese Canadian, and the third friend in the group. The Toronto NBA team’s 2019 championship sparked renewed national interest in that sport, he said, meaning a similar resurgence in Canadian soccer draws near. “If they do well in the World Cup – same thing.”
Everywhere, it seems, Canadians are now talking about how Team Canada’s return to the World Cup, which will be held in Qatar this November, is an overdue triumph.
Calgary’s Garage Sports Bar isn’t known as a place to watch soccer, but it attracted large groups of fans throughout Canada’s World Cup qualifying games.
Charlie Mendelman, the bar’s owner, said that until recently only a few dedicated fans would walk into his bar and ask him to put the soccer game on TV. Now, he said, crowds are coming to see the Canadian men’s team.
“We’re thrilled with all this,” said Mendelman, who expects the World Cup to be a big boost for his business.
In Surrey, B.C., Abdul Rafiu said the diversity of the Canadian team is a source of pride.
The Ghanaian-Canadian pointed out that several players on Canada’s team were born in Ghana. This includes star player Alphonso Davies, who is training to get back into game shape (and didn’t play Sunday) after dealing with myocarditis, a mild heart condition that he contracted after a bout of COVID-19.
“I look at the Canadian team compared to years past and I see that multiculturalism contributes a lot in our success for this national team,” said Rafiu, who works in social media for the Ghanaian Canadian Association of British Columbia.
Ralston Brady was a solitary figure Sunday inside The Greens Bar, also in Toronto’s Little Jamaica.
The 78-year-old, who moved from Montego Bay to Toronto decades ago, was cheering for his homeland on Sunday. But his heart sank when the TV showed the Canadian team scoring to go up 2-0.
He was the only patron watching the game in the bar. Everyone else in the neighbourhood had stayed away – perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for the Jamaican underdogs confronting the emerging juggernaut Team Canada.
Sipping a Heineken, the senior citizen sighed that it was never really a fair fight. “These guys have never been in -5 before,” Brady said as his Caribbean countrymen got dismantled on the snowy Toronto pitch.
“I’m a Canadian,” he said. “But I still love my Jamaican teams.”