Calgarians are revelling in a wave of festivities and optimism as they descend on Qatar ahead of Canada’s first FIFA World Cup match in nearly four decades.
Brian Gervais has been in the Middle Eastern country for several days, watching a number of games and enjoying the atmosphere at the global sporting event. He said the event, which has been rife with controversy, has gone off without a hitch so far.
The tournament officially kicked off Sunday but all Canadian eyes will be on Wednesday, when Canada will play its first game at the tournament in 36 years.
“Mood among Canadian fans is very optimistic,” said Gervais, reached while he was headed to a match between Poland and Mexico. “It’s a young man’s tourney so far and we are a young team. Lots of Canadians are here from across the country.”
Prior to this year’s tournament, Canada hadn’t qualified for the final phase since 1986 — exiting after playing three games without scoring a goal. This year’s team is headlined by talented young players, including Alphonso Davies, Johnathan David, Tajon Buchanan and Calgary’s Sam Adekugbe, who ply their trade in some of Europe’s biggest leagues.
Gervais said when he was in a British airport en route to Qatar, he had to explain to people that Canadians were attending with a team to cheer for.
“Had to explain to many that we’re in it. Once I went through the roster and where they play league play, (the Brits’) reaction changed to ‘those are pretty good players,’ ” said Gervais.
Gervais said he is joining the march to the match with The Voyageurs, Canada’s official supporters’ group. He said 2,000 Canadians are expected to join the march through Doha.
Calgarian Craig MacTavish, a member of the Voyageurs, arrived in Qatar on Tuesday. He said he is optimistic that underdog Canada will get a positive result Wednesday against Belgium, which ranked No. 2 in the world ahead of the tournament.
“I’m feeling really optimistic hearing Phonsie (Alphonso Davies) is practicing at full speed, Lukaku is out and the slow Belgian back line,” said MacTavish. “I think we can get our first goal and a result tomorrow.”
He said there were many Canadians on his flight across the Atlantic.
Calgary fans still on this side of the world will have a variety of viewing parties to watch the game at noon.
The Calgary Cavalry will host a watch party at the Ship and Anchor Pub, where the Voyageurs are also scheduled to be watching. The Deerfoot Inn and Casino is also scheduled to host a viewing party.
For future games against Croatia and Morocco, there will be watch parties at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex and Kildares pub.
Mason Trafford, Calgary Cavalry FC player and former member of the national team, said he was proud to see Canada in the World Cup, calling the appearance massive. Former Cavalry member Joel Waterman has been named to the World Cup squad just a few years after the Canadian Premier league launched.
“It feels a bit surreal, like, I’m not sure what emotions are gonna come out when I see the game tomorrow,” said Trafford. “I just want to climb to the top of the highest building in Calgary and, like, shout at people everywhere that this exists just down the road. This level of soccer is being played that is producing this calibre of player.”
Trafford said a contingent of Cavalry players and staff will watch the game on 17th Avenue S.W. on Wednesday, and he hopes there will be a new sea of red in the Beltline neighbourhood.
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