Calgarians descended on 17th Avenue to create another sea of red as Canada’s men’s team played their first game at a FIFA World Cup in 36 years on Wednesday.
Dozens of people lined up outside the Ship and Anchor pub before the doors opened at 8am to make sure they got the best seats in the house, long before Canada’s midday kick-off for their game against Belgium.
Michael Chomik and Tyler Loewenhardt, draped in red and white an hour before the game, had been front and center at the main screen for three hours.
“This is a special moment in time,” said Chomik. “This has been building for two years now, to this point and it’s been an emotional ride.”
Canada last qualified for the tournament 36 years ago.
Since then there has been a string of disappointments for the national team as they fell out of qualifying each new cycle. Led by a team of young, talented players, the team finished first in the North and Central America region and qualified for this year’s tournament.
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On Wednesday, the team was cheered from Alberta’s largest city as rowdy crowds packed local bars, chanting and singing before and during the game. On the ship, one of the loudest cheers of the morning rose as a Canadian flag was flown next to the big screen.
Megan DeVetten said she has been following the team for over a year as a member of The Voyageurs, a supporter group. On Wednesday, she watched the team with a Canadian flag painted on her face.
“People of all ages and all different backgrounds can come together and celebrate and it’s just so great for Canada,” DeVetten said. “It’s great to see Canada doing so well and yes, hopefully today is another great day.”
Despite Canada controlling the game for much of the first half, Canada trailed at the half. However, fans of the Rose and Crown on 4 Street SW were not discouraged. Brett Rook said the first half was very encouraging and he believed Canada’s pace would allow them to tie the game and take the lead in the final 45 minutes.
“When you look at Belgium as one of the best teams in the world and Canada as relatively unknown, I think it would have been very easy to say, yes, Belgium will dominate the game, but I think we are really strong played.” first half,” Rook said.
Rook said he believed Canada’s performance would have surprised viewers around the world who have not followed Canada’s men’s team.
Dressed in a Santa suit and red wig, Doug Kipta confidently said Canada would win the game in the end and took it a step further by saying Canada would win the entire tournament.
“Canada is going to win the World Cup and I’m going to win $11,000,” Kipta said.
Kipta’s prediction did not come true as the local favorites went down 1-0 against Belgium in a tight affair.
Despite the loss, Canadian fans remained positive after the final whistle. Matthew Renz called the game incredible and said the performance would have surprised football fans around the world.
“They played fearlessly, they showed up and made everyone proud. Unfortunately we didn’t have our shooting boots, but everything else, what more could you want,” said Renz.
Canada will play Croatia next Sunday before facing Morocco on December 1.