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From Qatar to Island, past and present collide as Canada in first World Cup game in 36 years

1986 team, the only Canadian side to play in a World Cup, enjoys a retro moment of reflected fame
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Thirty-six years later, Jamie Lowery is back at the World Cup. Lowery, one of two amateurs on the Canadian team that played at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Lowery (right) is shown in this undated Pan American Games qualification match. CANADA SOCCER ARCHIVES VIATHE CANADIAN PRESS

Jamie Lowery’s daughter, Amelia, asked him how long he was going to cry today when Canada comes out of the tunnel at 11 a.m. PT to play No. 2 Belgium and end a 36-year drought away from the World Cup.

“I told her the tears would last about 45 minutes, an entire half, because everybody knows how emotional I get,” said Lowery, who will be in the crowd at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, with his daughter and several other fans from the Island. “I could care less what it’s costing. I just had to be here,” said Lowery.

The 1986 Canadian team, the only previous edition to play in a World Cup, is getting its retro moment of reflected fame with the national media recalling Canada’s only previous appearance, with a team that included Island players Lowery, George Pakos and Ian Bridge.

“I’ve been busy with people phoning me and asking me about the 36 years,” said Pakos.

Lowery has been reflecting on it, too: “If you had asked me back then, I would have said there’s no chance it would take 36 years for us to get back. I would have never guessed that. Where did we go wrong? I can’t pinpoint it.”

Lowery, the Port Alberni product and former Vic West stalwart, marked France captain Michel Platini in Canada’s first World Cup game 36 years ago in Leon, Mexico. It took the better part of three-plus decades to get another World Cup opener, but the current rising, young, dynamic and skilled national team has delivered finally another appearance for Canada and nobody is happier to see it than Lowery, Pakos and Bridge.

The 1986 team failed to score in three group-stage losses to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union. Few think this more attack-minded 2022 team will be shutout in Qatar. “I will witness the first Canadian goal at a World Cup,” Lowery, a Victoria bus driver, predicted.

Pakos famously played in the World Cup on holiday time from his job with the City of Victoria water department. He will watch the game at the Strathcona Hotel, one of three CPL and Pacific FC-sponsored watch parties being held downtown today.

“I believe this Canadian team can score in every game,” said the man who scored two of the four goals in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying to propel Canada to the 1986 World Cup.

“John [Herdman, Canada coach] has the depth and a great choice of players to pick from,” Pakos said. “I believe we can be in every World Cup now every four years. We have the foundation now with MLS and the CPL.”

Another former Island soccer star, Simon Keith, who is in Qatar for the Canada games, concurred: “This team looks like it will be the team that sets in motion a multi-generational change in the landscape of Canadian soccer.”

“The game has grown in terms of structure and sophistication,” added Victoria-product Keith, who many believe would have been on Canada’s team in 1986 and in 1990 and 1994 qualifying if not struck down and requiring a heart transplant at age 19.

“The system allows players multiple options for a career in the game. The CPL is fantastic — Pacific FC has done a superb job — the MLS and their academies are strong. Getting overseas is much easier than when we played. With the 2026 World Cup coming our way, the sky is the limit. Increased sponsorship deals, better TV deals — all will lead to better players, coaches and better results for players and the national team. It’s an exciting time.”

The historic nature of today’s game is not lost on Herdman.

“It’s a dream come true,” the Canada boss said in a statement.

“We enjoy knowing there’s people back home surrounding the TVs, filling the bars and restaurants. It’s a great feeling.”

Canadian player Steven Vitoria said it’s not a case of just happy to be there: “We’re beyond excited we made it to the world’s biggest stage. But I want to be clear we’re not here just to enjoy or participate. We’re here to get a job done. But very happy with our journey and the growth of our country in coming along with this. It’s fantastic.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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