THUNDER BAY — Canada’s first World Cup match since 1986 brought a lively crowd of Lakehead University students to The Outpost campus pub on Wednesday.
And while fans left disappointed in the 1-0 result as Canada dropped the contest to a Belgian squad entering the tournament second in the FIFA world rankings, they found solace in a strong performance from the Canadian team.
Canada dropped the match despite finding more chances, especially during a freewheeling first half.
Star Alphonso Davies had perhaps the best scoring chance of the game for Canada, when the Canadians were awarded a penalty kick within the first 10 minutes after a handball. The low shot from Davies was stymied by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Michy Batshuayi scored the game-winning goal for Belgium just before the halftime break.
Yamandeep Malhi, vice-president of operations and finance for the Lakehead University Student Union, which operates The Outpost, said they staged the game after receiving numerous student requests.
He was pleasantly surprised by the turnout of over 100 spectators Wednesday, who gamely joined in several chants and audibly reacted to Canada’s several close calls.
“Everywhere I go, the topic I hear the most in conversation is the World Cup,” said Malhi. “Everybody’s talking about who’s going to win — there’s been some upsets in the beginning, so it’s been an interesting conversation all around.”
The Outpost plans to show more World Cup games going forward during operating hours, he said, calling the tournament a welcome relief from stress as students enter exam time.
Eric Watson, a former semi-professional soccer player pursuing a Masters of Business Administration at Lakehead, said Wednesday’s match was a long time coming.
Holding English-Canadian dual citizenship, it’s the first time he’s ever been able to root for Canada in the tournament.
“For me, having the ability to actually follow my home country … the amount of pride I felt in seeing those boys out there on the pitch is immense,” he said.
“Canada’s ability to show that we’re one of the top 32 teams in the [world], and we can go toe-to-toe with the second-ranked nation in the world — and really, if we’re being honest, put them under the cosh — I think it shows how far we’ve come as a nation.”
He’s optimistic Canada could make it to the round of 16, but said this year might prove to be more valuable as a warm-up for the 2026 World Cup, which Canada will co-host with the United States and Mexico.
Canada continues their World Cup campaign with a Sunday matchup against Croatia, who played to a scoreless draw against Morocco on Wednesday.