Kashmir Bahia and Álvaro Santamaría hang flags from countries around the world in their Regina pub as they prepare to welcome soccer fans.
Team Canada will be making its first World Cup appearance since 1986 and Canadians across the country are gearing up to cheer on their players. The tournament in Qatar began on November 20 and Canada plays its first game on Wednesday against Belgium.
At The Lobby Kitchen and Bar, owners Bahía and Santamaría have placed World Cup calendars and a replica of the World Cup trophy around the Christmas decorations that already fill the bar.
Both Bahía and Santamaría are longtime soccer fans, but they say cheering on Team Canada is different.
“We all come from our parents’ homeland. We used to cheer them on respectively: England for me and El Salvador for Álvaro,” Bahía said. “But having Canada changes the experience and we’re super excited.”
The pub will show the games live and there will be giveaways along with drink and food specials.
“We’re actually bringing in a DJ before every Canada game just to spice up the atmosphere,” Bahia said.
The pub is expected to reach its maximum capacity, approximately 115 people, during the games.
“People come dressed in their respective colors, flags, people paint their faces,” Santamaría said.
“It’s definitely going to be a festive atmosphere.”
Soccer fans also flock to buy merchandise at stores, say retailers, including North America Sports the Soccer Shop in Vancouver.
“During the World Cup, there is always a spike in business. There is always a spike in incoming traffic,” said owner Ferruccio Susin.
With Canada in the tournament, he said that the team jerseys are the most requested product by customers.
“They are the biggest draw. The biggest seller… In the last few weeks, we have sold more than 150 Canada jerseys. The second biggest demand is Argentina and Brazil, along with Portugal and Croatia as well,” he said.
The T-shirts, along with other clothing such as branded hoodies, shirts, hats and scarves, are flying off the shelves, according to Susin.
“We had to reorder at least four times the product. Although there is a supply problem, we managed to find more products that we can offer to our customers,” he said.
One of the biggest stars on Team Canada is Alphonso Davies, 22, of Edmonton.
Davies came to the attention 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. Not only did he have the ability to back that up, but he was a unique talent. He showed it on and off the field, and he was very charismatic…he was a great leader and a great person.”
Bazzarelli said Davies has made the seemingly impossible a reality for students at the same soccer academy he once attended.
“He did the same things that these kids have been doing: the same facilities, the same type of drills. So it gives them a reality check that, you know, I can pull it off.”
Another group that will be keeping an eye out for the games is BTB Academy, an organization that makes soccer affordable for Edmonton families. Davies is an ambassador for the programme.
“[The World Cup] it’s all they talk about. Since last 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 children and said it is exciting to see him on the biggest stage in football, fulfilling that dream.
But he said it’s an even bigger problem for the kids on the show.
“It just makes the dream and the goal a little more realistic. It feels like it’s something they can reach out and touch because they see someone coming from exactly where they’re coming from at 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 field.
He will try to watch every game, “even at school”, and said he is looking forward to “seeing Alphonso score a lot of goals”.
“It feels good to have someone from our city to play in the World Cup,” Suchy said, adding that Alphonso’s journey has taught him important lessons.
“Don’t give up, just keep trying. Even if you fall to the ground, just get up.”
Fellow BTB Academy player Shawn Taja, 11, also said he plans to watch the World Cup.
“Canada will probably play and see Alphonso Davies,” said Taja when asked what he expected.
“I’m so happy that they are in the World Cup.”