Kashmir Bahia and Alvaro Santamaria string up flags of countries from around the world in their Regina pub as they get ready to welcome soccer fans.
Team Canada will be making its first World Cup appearance since 1986 and Canadians across the country are getting ready to cheer on their players. The tournament in Qatar started Nov. 20 and Canada plays its first game on Wednesday against Belgium.
At The Lobby Kitchen and Bar, owners Bahia and Santamaria have put up World Cup schedules and a replica World Cup trophy around Christmas decorations that already fill the pub.
Both Bahia and Santamaria are long-time soccer fans, but they say it is different cheering on Team Canada.
“We all come from our parents’ homelands. We respectively used to cheer for them—England for me and El Salvador for Alvaro,” said Bahia. “But having Canada in it changes the experience and we’re just super pumped.”
The pub will be showing the games live and there will be giveaways along with drink and food specials.
“We’re actually bringing a DJ before every Canada game just to amp up the atmosphere,” Bahia said.
The pub is expected to hit maximum capacity, roughly 115 people, during the games.
“People come dressed up in their respective colors, flags, people paint their faces,” Santamaria said.
“It’s definitely going to be a festive environment.”
Soccer fans are also flocking to buy merchandise at stores, retailers say, including North America Sports the Soccer Shop in Vancouver.
“During the World Cup, there’s always a spike in business. There’s always a spike in traffic that’s coming through,” said owner Ferruccio Susin.
With Canada in the tournament, he said team jerseys are the hottest commodity for customers.
“They are the biggest draw. The biggest seller… The last few weeks, we’ve sold over 150 Canada jerseys. The second-biggest demand is Argentina and Brazil along with Portugal and Croatia, as well,” he said.
The jerseys, along with other swag such as branded hoodies, shirts, hats and scarves, are flying off the shelves, according to Susin.
“We had to re-order at least, almost, four times the product. Even though there is some supply issue, we managed to find more products that we can offer our customers,” he said.
One of the biggest stars on Canada’s team is Alphonso Davies, 22, from Edmonton.
Davies caught the eye of Marco Bossio and Dino Bazzarelli, a pair of soccer coaches at St. Nicholas Soccer Academy, in 2011. They coached Davies for three years — when he was in Grades 7, 8 and 9.
“An incredible amount of confidence,” Bossio said. “He had not only the skill to back that up but he was just a unique talent. He demonstrated that on and off the pitch, and he was very charismatic… He was very much a leader and a great person.”
Bazzarelli said Davies has made the seemingly impossible a reality for students in the same soccer academy he once attended.
“He did all the same things that these kids have been doing — same facilities, same type of drills. So it gives them a reality check that, you know, I can make it.”
Another group who will be keeping an eye on the games is BTB Academy, an organization that makes soccer affordable for Edmonton families. Davies is an ambassador for the program.
“[The World Cup] is all they talk about. Since the past month, that’s all they’ve been talking about,” said Pius Ishiekwene, the academy’s technical director.
Ishiekwene said he has known Davies since they were kids and said it’s exciting to see him on soccer’s biggest stage, fulfilling that dream.
But he said it is an even bigger deal for the kids in the program.
“It just makes the dream and goal a little bit more realistic. It feels like it’s something that they can reach out and touch cause they see someone coming from exactly where they are making it to that stage. It gives them a little bit of hope ,” Ishiekwene said.
‘Just keep trying’
Dylan Suchy, 11, plays with the organization and said he is excited to see Team Canada on the pitch.
He’s going to try and watch all the games, “even in school,” and said he is most looking forward to “seeing Alphonso scoring a lot of goals.”
“It feels good to have someone from our city to be playing in the World Cup,” Suchy said, adding Alphonso’s journey has taught him important lessons.
“Not giving up—just keep trying. Even if you fall to the ground, just get up.”
Fellow BTB Academy player Shawn Taja, 11, also said he is planning to watch the World Cup.
“Probably Canada playing and seeing Alphonso Davies,” Taja said when asked what he was looking forward to.
“I’m so happy that they are in the World Cup.”