Southern Alberta soccer enthusiasts gathered across Lethbridge, including outdoors in downtown’s Festival Square for Canada’s first World Cup match Wednesday against Belgium.

“Years ago, when I was growing up and playing youth soccer, you’d never even dream about Canada being at this point,” said soccer fan David Selles. “Almost expecting results for this country is massive.”

Team Canada falling 1-0 in its first World Cup appearance since 1986 wasn’t the result fans were hoping for.

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FIFA World Cup: Canada loses 1-0 to Belgium

But with two more guaranteed round robin matches ahead, local businesses are anticipating the interest will provide an economic boost.

“We’re hoping people come and enjoy the game obviously, but that people have downtown businesses full of new customers after the game,” said David Velazquez, the Downtown BRZ’s operations coordinator.

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“These sporting events get people pumped up — you want to go and join the rest of the community in supporting your team,” said Tyler Harvey, the owner and general manager of the Canadian Brewhouse in Lethbridge.

“Hopefully, everybody will get jacked about that and come check out the game.”

And as Canadian soccer thrives on the national stage, it’s also booming at the local community level.

Read more:

FIFA World Cup: Canadians ready for 1st game against Belgium

“All of our age groups, even our adult leagues, you see an increase in registration,” Lethbridge Soccer Association program coordinator Kristy Lauzon said.

“Everybody just seems to want to get involved and enjoy the game we all love.”

Lauzon believes Canada’s World Cup appearance could also lead to higher participation at the youth level.

“That’s huge for these younger kids to have role models like that to look up to,” Lauzon said.

“That gives them that incentive: ‘Hey, you can come from any walk of life and look what you can achieve.’”

Even with a first match loss, local soccer fans are keeping their hopes high for their national squad.

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“We are thankful for getting a chance to watch this but at the same time we’re expecting great things,” said Zachary Hampton, who took in Wednesday’s match from Festival Square.

Canada’s next opponent is Croatia. That match begins Sunday at 9 a.m.

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