As Canada kicked off its first appearance at the Men’s FIFA World Cup in more than 30 years Wednesday, a long-time Winnipeg soccer watcher acknowledges choosing a side to cheer for might not be easy for all Manitoba fans.
Héctor Vergara, executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association, says some newcomers to Canada might be torn over rooting for the country they were born in or the country they now call home.
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“You’re a new Canadian and all of a sudden you’re in this conflict – ‘what team do I cheer for?’” Vergara told 680 CJOB Wednesday morning.
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“This is why the World Cup is so wonderful.
“It touches on so many people from so many different backgrounds – it’s exciting for everybody.”
It has been quite some time since Canadian soccer fans have had the opportunity to feel torn about who to cheer for in the World Cup — the Canadian squad last qualified for the elite tournament in 1986.
And the team had its work cut out for it in its opening game Wednesday afternoon against 2018 semifinalist Belgium, who sit second in the FIFA rankings.
Canada, ranked 41st, ultimately lost the match 1-0.
Canada’s only prior trip to soccer’s showcase was a scoreless, three-loss performance 36 years ago against France, Hungary and the Soviet Union, with a squad that included Bob Lenarduzzi, Tino Lettieri and Branko Segota.
The 2022 Team Canada is led by a new generation, headed by Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin. They finished first in CONCACAF qualifying, a turnaround engineered by John Herdman. He coached the Canadian women to bronze medals in the 2012 and ’16 Olympics, then switched to coach the men in 2018.
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While Vergara considers Belgium to be a strong team – one of the top in the world – he said before the game that Canada is also fielding a quality team.
“Canada has a strong team as well … I think they have the ability and they’re motivated to do well,” he said.
“If they play as they can – (with) their very best skill – I think they can cause trouble for Belgium.”
Ultimately Vergara says win or lose, he’s hopeful this year’s appearance at the World Cup will be the first of many to come for Canada.
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“That’s the whole objective of being in the World Cup, is to motivate your country, motivate your young people to continue to strive to be better players,” he said.
“For coaches to become better coaches and for referees to become better referees and the whole system to improve.
“At the end of the day we hope that this competition and this opportunity that Canada has will motivate many young people to continue to strive to be at the highest level possible.”
— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
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