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After establishing such an incredible early pace to open up the World Cup, the challenge is on to keep the party rolling.
We’re talking, of course, about the incredible outburst of national pride at sports bars across the city Wednesday, as Canada came oh so close to staging a remarkable victory in its first game on the sport’s biggest stage in 36 years.
The hangover wasn’t so bad. The 1-0 loss to Belgium hurt a bit, but from the most passionate Canadian soccer observers to the relative newcomers caught up in the fever of the moment, there was hope stemming from the dynamic performance of the underdog Canucks that had even the Belgians acknowledging they were lucky to get out of the stadium with a victory.
The fandom for the opener was as electric as the performance on the field.
As Canada attacked Belgium again and again on the big screen, the chorus of chants inside the Glebe Central Pub on Wednesday afternoon grew louder and louder.
Forget about hearing the play by play. Instead, the air inside the bar was full of a series of spirited war cries — everything from “Canada is red and white,” to “Jonathan David, he’s one of our own,” to “the referee is a wanker,” as the jam-packed capacity crowd cheered the Ottawa soccer poster boy and took issue with the calls on the field inQatar.
When Alphonso Davies stepped up to take a penalty kick only 10 minutes into the game, you could cut the tension with a knife. Or a fork.
“Hold on to your poutines,” screamed Daniel Duff, the founder of the Capital City Supporters Group.
The CCSG, which has made a name for itself for its loud and proud support for Atlético Ottawa, was in full voice and colour in cheering on Canada Wednesday.
At times, they were dancing and screaming at the screen, as if by raising the decibel level they could help push the ball across the Belgian line for the elusive goal that never came.
If Canada delivers a similar effort Sunday against Croatia, maybe, just maybe, they’ll finally score for the first time in the country’s World Cup history.
Now, can the crowds deliver again? The first look was impressive in its spirit, a departure from the stereotype of Ottawa’s sports fans being reserved and lacking in passion.
Canadian T-shirts, scarves, toques, flags — and yes, a goalie mask with a red maple leaf across the front — were all in the house at the Glebe Pub.
The World Cup party started early for Jon Hopkins. Sporting true Canadian colours — red and white plaid with a Canadian flag draped over his back — he was at his post as a greeter on the patio at 10 a.m., a full four hours before kickoff.
That delay was nothing for Hopkins, 26, who had been waiting his whole life for Wednesday’s experience. Canada’s last appearance on soccer’s biggest stage came way back in 1986.
“It’s hard to explain, it’s just a passion we have for the game and we’ve never been able to cheer for our country (in the World Cup) before,” he said. “It’s a pretty massive day for Canada in a lot of ways, it means a lot to the people I have been greeting this morning.”
Going into the tournament, his hopes were modest.
“For me, the expectation for this World Cup is to grow and build the game in Canada, getting more eyes on it.”
Inside the pub, Rafael Pelletier-Archambault was ready to go at noon.
Sporting a hand-written headband — “1 per cent chance, 99 per cent fan” — he let everyone know what he thought Canada’s chances for success were. His heart says one thing, his head another.
“I think we have one per cent chance of winning the World Cup, maybe less,” he said. “I’m hoping we can at least make the round of 16, but realistically, I think we’re going to go 0-3. But it’s a community. I’m here to support the country. It’s the first time we’ve been here in 36 years. I really want to see them score against Belgium.”
The anticipation grew as game time approached. An hour before it got underway, the Glebe Central Pub had hit capacity limits, forced to turn fans away.
“It’s a nice little easy opening for us,” said general manager David Hania, who has adopted Canada as his favourite after being a lifelong Dutch fan. “We’re ready. If you consider yourself a sports pub, you’ve got to capitalize on the passion.”
In the spirit of the moment, poutine was the specialty of the day.
“When the world is looking at you, you’ve got to show all your stereotypes, so let’s solidify those,” he said, comparing Wednesday’s spirit to the atmosphere that surrounds St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. “The more games, the better.”
Five minutes before the game got underway, the patio crowd broke out into a spontaneous a cappella version of O Canada.
Once the game started and Canada put relentless pressure on the Belgian defence, it was more than even the most optimistic of Canadian fans could have expected.
Canada trailed 1-0 at halftime. There was some mild grumbling about the penalty kick effort and the defensive lapse that allowed Belgium to score, but there was little disappointment.
Mulling over the endless missed chances in the first half, a table of onlookers, proudly labelling themselves as “Brazilian, Scottish, Turkish and American turned Canadian,” was in awe of the Canadian effort.
“That’s the best we’ve ever seen them play,” said Ugur Avunca. “We never would have thought we would see so many chances.”
As for the atmosphere of singing and dancing in the bar all around them, Lance Vickers said, “That’s why we’re here.”
Vickers will get to see the whole drama unfold first-hand in a couple of days. He’s leaving for Qatar on Friday, his enthusiasm for Canada’s chances having grown based on what he saw on the big screen.
If Canada can push Belgium so hard, maybe, just maybe there’s more than a one per cent chance Canada can do some damage before the World Cup is over.
“Canada was the better team,” Vickers said.
It was an inspired effort and if there was ever any doubt that Canada had the soccer fans to match that spirit, Wednesday’s raucous atmosphere should also put those thoughts to rest.
Does Canada — and Canadian fans — have another big game ready to go?
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