Two unforgiving moments, a missed Canadian penalty kick and an against-the-flow Belgian goal, is all it took and was felt a world away on Vancouver Island.
Local soccer fans, hanging on every kick, agonized over what most of them saw as an unjust result that did not reflect the play as Canada opened the 2022 World Cup with a cruel 1-0 loss to No. 2 Belgium at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar.
“They outscored us. We outplayed them,” said former teacher and long-time basketball coach Harry Franklin. That was a sentiment shared in a packed Wicket Hall at the Strathcona Hotel as fans, most dressed in red, gathered for a watch party hosted by Pacific FC.
“We should have had a result. We were the better team on the day,” said former Victoria Athletics player Bob Sparks, who was wearing an Alphonso Davies jersey.
“Croatia is probably looking at this and going ‘holy crap.’ ” Croatia, the 2018 World Cup finalist, is Canada’s next opponent, on Sunday.
But a loss is a loss and it was felt acutely across watch parties from Victoria to St. John’s as Canadian star Davies missed a penalty kick and Belgium scored on its only chance of the game.
“The boys will be disappointed with the result but we proved we can play with anybody in the world,” said Franklin.
Blake McStravick, decked in a Canada jersey and scarf, took a vacation day from his job in the UVic IT department to watch the game: “I felt proud. We just didn’t know at this level, but it looked like we belonged, and didn’t look out of place against the No. 2 team in the world.”
Gordie Kingma, brewer for Vancouver Island Brewery, agreed: “It was an amazing game to watch and Canada impressed. It should have been 5-1. I still think we will win the next two games in our group [against Croatia and African-champion Morocco].”
The last and only time Canada played in the World Cup was 36 years ago, with Island players George Pakos, Ian Bridge and Jamie Lowery. Canada is still looking for its all-time first World Cup goal, despite attacking diligently against Belgium. “We had ’em. I thought we dominated Belgium,” said Pakos, who scored two key goals in qualifying that propelled Canada into the 1986 World Cup.
“If Fonzie had scored on the penalty kick, it would have been a different game. As it is, we are still looking for that elusive first World Cup goal. We didn’t get the bounces we needed.”
Edmonton-raised Davies, the Bayern Munich player, looked hesitant and uncertain on a penalty kick that lacked conviction and was stopped by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid, one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Davies seemed to overthink it.
“In basketball, you call a time-out in what is described as icing an opposition shooter ahead of a big free throw. It looked like Davies iced himself,” said hoops coach Franklin.
Canada closes group play against Croatia at 8 a.m. PT Sunday and against Morocco at 7 a.m. PT on Dec. 1.
“Overall, it was a good showing to start, despite the result,” said Pakos.
“We will regroup and come back even stronger.”