Canadian soccer fans descended on bars and restaurants across the country as a full slate of World Cup matches got underway Friday.
The international tournament that occurs every four years has long packed pubs, patios and public spaces as enthusiastic supporters wave flags, don team jerseys and cheer for their favourites.
In downtown Toronto, fans clad in the green and red of Portugal’s colours, waited in long lineups to watch the country’s team play Spain in the tournament’s first marquee matchup.
Jonny Gomes, 56, stood in a 50-person-long line at Cafe Diplomatico, upset with himself that he didn’t arrive earlier. He believes Portugal will rebound from a poor showing at the 2014 World Cup where they failed to advance past the group stage.
“We can’t lose!” he yelled, prompting high fives from other supporters as horns blared from passing cars adorned with Portuguese flags.
Cafe Diplomatico has taken over a street next to the 50-year-old restaurant, with a large tent capable of accommodating another 250 patrons who can watch the game on a large screen.
Carla Rubino, 32, was a begrudging Portugal fan in the crowd. She has Italian roots, but was without a team to cheer for after Italy failed to qualify for the event.
Yet she came out to Cafe Diplomatico, which sits in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy, to hang out with some of her Portuguese friends.
“Go Portugal,” she said with mock enthusiasm. “I hope I’m not cheering for another loser!”
In Montreal’s Little Italy, a banner strung across Saint-Laurent street read “Go everyone but Sweden,” — a bitter reminder of the qualifying loss that kept Italy out of the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
Pennants with the same message had been passed to local merchants, but one Italian cafe owner said he wouldn’t be displaying them.
“I don’t believe in that,” said Peter Morina, an immigrant who flies an Italian flag over his door.
Instead, the patio of Uncle Pete’s cafe was strung with the flags of many nations with the expectation that most of the fans would still turn up.
Businesses across the country say they’re ready for a hectic month.
In Halifax, Chris Denham of the Niche Lounge said his establishment will be showing every game with an early happy hour planned for the afternoon matches.
“EuroCup was big … and the last World Cup was four years ago and it was bonkers,” he said.
Cameron Lafek of The London Pub in Vancouver said the time difference means they won’t be open for some early contests, but they’ll be showing all the England games and other important matches.
“It’s always big for soccer at this pub,” he said. “It’s not too hard to suck it up for a month and do those strange hours.”
Caroline Levy, general manager of the St. Augustine’s pub in the heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy said she’s also expecting big crowds for the games.
“We’re going to miss Italy, but we won’t be suffering too much,” Levy said. “We have a lot of regulars that have been loyal soccer fans for a very long time.”
No matter who’s on the screens, there’ll be a buzz in the air, she said.
“National pride is huge. It’s not aggressive at all, though,” she said. “Lots of happy tears. Some sad tears, too. It’s a really good time.”
Host Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 Thursday in the World Cup opener and earlier on Friday Uruguay beat Egypt 1-0, while Iran beat Morocco 1-0.
There are 32 teams competing in the tournament that runs through July 15.
The Canadian Press