Jim Crawford says he remembers how surreal it was to be at the 1986 FIFA World Cup — the last time Canada’s men’s national team made an appearance in soccer’s biggest show.
Crawford travelled to Mexico that year to watch the team, which lost all its group stage games and didn’t even score a goal. But the overmatched Canadians played hard and he appreciated the effort.
“It was just amazing to be at the stadiums, watching our boys battle with the best of the world and do a great job,” said the Toronto resident and member of the Voyageurs national soccer fan club.
After 36 long years of failure and disappointment, Canada’s men’s team is finally on the verge of taking on the best again. Although the Canadians lost to Costa Rica Thursday in their 18th qualifying match for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Crawford and other soccer fans are eagerly anticipating their game against Jamaica at Toronto’s BMO Field Sunday.
A win or a tie there against one of the weakest teams in the draw will punch Canada’s ticket to the big tournament.
“It’s almost like serendipity, or the stars aligned, that we’re going to clinch the qualifying at home,” said Crawford, who says he used to play and coach in the North Toronto Soccer League.
He’s watched over the decades as Canadian men’s national teams have underachieved and faltered in World Cup qualifying. But this time around, Canada has climbed into first place in the qualification round for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re definitely on a high today,” Crawford said.
Local bar ready for big crowds
Bars across the country, and particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, are preparing for huge crowds of soccer fans Sunday evening.
At the Onyxx Sports Bar & Grill in Brampton, manager Jaineil Hoilett says they’re pulling out all the stops for the Canada-Jamaica game.
“We have a big screen, plus 22 other screens for our guests to watch the game live, alongside a DJ as well during halftime,” said Hoilett, who says he used to play soccer for Humber College, with stints abroad.
“We have a few appetizers on special and we’re looking to have a good time with our guests.”
He says they’re expecting “nothing less than a full house” because Brampton is home to several members of Canada’s national men’s team, as well as to a large Jamaican community.
Ron Smale, the general manager of the Toronto Azzurri Soccer Club, says folks watching the national men’s team play on the world stage these past few months might have had a hand in boosting registration numbers and re-igniting interest in the sport.
“I believe with the media and with all the number of games that have been televised, that’s really helped.”
Smale says the club has 400 to 500 youth players registered in its recreational and competitive programs each summer, and interest is growing now that people are headed outdoors and pandemic restrictions are easing.
“We’re very confident that our national team will qualify … and that’ll create a whole lot of buzz when the 2022 World Cup tournament begins.”