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There is no more magical time to be in Toronto than during the World Cup, when the city’s famed multiculturalism expresses itself in a rainbow of flags flying from front porches and passing cars.
As the massive soccer event kicks off, we talked to GTA fans who hail from each of the tournament’s 32 countries asking them why we should cheer for their side, and where we should cheer for them. Here’s what they told us.
Raymond Mathias, a 50 year old who works in destination marketing and lives in downtown Toronto.
“This is a chance in a lifetime for us. The last time Wales qualified for the World Cup was in 1958, so this doesn’t come around very often. These are historic moments for us. And we’ve also got one of the best players in the world, Gareth Bale, who will excite anybody to watch.”
Mathias will be away for most of the matches, but if he was in Toronto, he’d head to Real Sports at 15 York St. “Whether it’s rugby or football, to go and see a match with Wales on that massive TV screen in Real Sports would be absolutely fantastic.”
Peter Polanski, a Mississauga-based 47 year old who runs a fulfilment centre. He’s also involved in the Lakeshore United FC Academy, a predominantly Polish soccer school established in 1992.
Robert Lewandowski, a striker who regularly plays for Barcelona, is reason enough. “Lewandowski has a lot of fans all over the world. He’s been the best striker for the past two years.” For the second year in a row, Lewandowksi won the coveted European Golden Boot, awarded to the top goal scorer among European leagues.
Where’s a good place to cheer for them? Polanski plans to watch Poland’s games at Orbit Restaurant, a Polish eatery at 2025 Dundas St. E. in Mississauga. “I know they’ll be streaming live matches, and I’m pretty sure a lot of fans are going to be going there.”
Makoto Unagami, a 42 year old from North York who runs a Japanese-language sports club for children called J Athletics Canada.
Japan has a young squad with lots of new faces. Unagami said the team is also considered an underdog in a tough group with Germany, Spain and Costa Rica.
In partnership with the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, J Athletics is hosting a viewing party for Japan’s third match at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1, when they’ll face off against Spain. People can also come watch Canada’s match against Morocco that morning at 10 a.m.
Jorge Patricio Viera, a 60-year-old orchestra conductor and band teacher in the Toronto District School Board. The Scarborough resident also serves as president of the Association of Ecuadorians in Ontario.
You won’t get bored watching Ecuador and other Latin American teams play. They have an uptempo style that incorporates lots of improvisation. “The way of playing in Latin America and Ecuador is different than in Europe or North America.” Ecuador also has one of the youngest teams in the tournament. “I think it’s a good way to support the youth.”
St. Clair Avenue West is a good spot to watch Ecuadorian matches as the area is home to many Latin American expats.
German Gomez, a 37-year-old procurement consultant who moved to Toronto a year and a half ago.
One major reason would be Lionel Messi, Argentina’s captain and one of the best soccer players in the history of the game. “We have great fans, as well.” Whether the team’s winning or losing, Gomez said Argentinian fans cheer like wild every game. “There’s a lot of passion behind the sport for us.” And the country also hasn’t won the World Cup since 1986. “It’s in everybody’s minds every four years. Nobody’s talking about anything out there that’s not soccer right now.”
“Personally, I like to watch the games by myself. A lot of people do. Or (with) very close family or friends. People normally get together in Argentina to make barbecue.” However, many of the games are at very early times, so that might not happen as much this year.
Babak, a 59-year-old engineer based in uptown Toronto. (The Star withheld Babak’s surname due to he fears he may face retribution for his comments.)
“Frankly, due to the government’s violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and its support of Russia in the war, I signed a petition for FIFA to ban Iran from participating. However, I am hoping for the players to find ways to show their support of the people, either by wearing black wrist bands, not singing along (during) the Iranian anthem or, better, kneeling while the anthem is being played. All Iranians are hoping (for) their athletes to be their voice.”
“I plan to watch it on TV if possible. Otherwise, (I’ll) connect with friends that pick a gathering place for all Iranian diaspora.”
Njacko Backo, a 64-year-old musician who moved to Toronto in 1998.
A World Cup would mean a great deal not just to Cameroonians but all of Africa. “I don’t know a single kid in Africa that will tell you that they never played soccer. That’s not possible.” Yet no African country has ever won the World Cup. “And everybody’s waiting for that … If we win, it’s for the continent, not just for Cameroon.” A victory like that would inspire children across Africa.
Backo said people from the Cameroonian diaspora often just watch games at each other’s houses. But he said you should be able to find bars and restaurants near Jane and Finch that’ll show matches featuring Cameroon and other African countries.
Thierno Soumare, a 42 year old who works as a production co-ordinator at the Batuki Music Society. He’s lived in Toronto for 10 years.
Because you’re cheering not just for Senegal but for all of Africa. “If one team is going into the World Cup, it’s not for the country but for the continent,” he explained. And there’s buzz around Senegal this year, too … This past December, Senegal won the African Cup of Nations, the continent’s top soccer tournament.
Typically, the Senegalese community gets together to watch soccer at one of our homes over Senegalese tea and food. “It’s so lovely,” said Soumare.
Mariana Monge, a financial services worker who moved to Toronto to pursue a Master’s degree nearly two years ago.
The reasons go beyond the game of soccer. “We’re famous for our mantra, ‘Pura Vida,’ which translates directly to ‘pure life.’ ” She said it represents Costa Ricans’ penchant for optimism and their deep connection with nature. “We’re a very peaceful country, a strong democracy… Even though we’re tiny, we’re mighty.”
Monge said she hasn’t found a hub for the Costa Rican community in Toronto. She said the community will likely rotate among peoples’ homes.
Philipp Gysling, a 57-year-old IT worker who moved to Toronto for graduate studies decades ago.
The Canadian and Swiss teams are very similar in one respect: “They probably have about the same number of second- and third-generation immigrants.” But whether they were born in Switzerland or not, the players identify as Swiss. Gysling thinks that might strike a chord among many Canadian viewers. “And although we don’t have any major stars, our team has a great deal of depth as the bulk of the players play in the top five soccer leagues in Europe … That just goes to show that they can really surprise anyone on a good day.”
Gysling will actually be watching from the stands in Qatar. In the past, he said Swiss expats in Toronto have gathered to watch matches at The Rushton at 740 St. Clair Ave W.
Cory Bildfell, a 26 year old in the tech industry who lives in downtown Toronto.
There’s a good vibe around this team and the soccer world has taken notice. They’ve got charismatic stars like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, as well as a talented coach in John Herdman, who’s “created this lighthearted team that that has quality, but also plays really well as a group.” After beating the United States and Mexico, Canada has also shown that “we’re the kind of underdog that you could see making a huge impact at the World Cup.” If Canada can beat them, then why can’t they beat France or England?
Bildfell plans to watch matches at the Lost Craft Brewery on 837 Runnymede Rd., as they’re hosting watch parties. But he noted there are many more bars in the GTA that are hosting viewing parties, and you can find more information them here.”
Charles Cho, a 45 year old living in Toronto who was born in Korea but moved to France when he was two. Cho has a passion for soccer fandom.
“France for me has been this roller-coaster performance in every World Cup. When we expect them the least, they perform very well … they have this sort of attitude of dominating and then they get completely beaten and ridiculed. So this year, I’m cheering for France because they are now used to being considered one of the favourites.”
Cho was unsure of a good place to cheer for the French team. He will be on a business trip and later vacation during the World Cup, and will be watching the games when he can.
Ingo Holzinger, a 55 year old living in Toronto who moved from Germany to the United States in 1994 to complete his PhD and has been living in Canada for almost 20 years.
“Germany typically goes into a tournament being one of the favorites and in my opinion, they probably are not this time. So this is maybe more of an underdog team. If I were not German, I’m not sure I would cheer for Germany. I think they’re a very respected team, but maybe not the most well-liked team. Maybe because they’ve been pretty successful over the years.”
The Pint, at 277 Front St. W.
Twenty-four-year-old Hobin Seo who lives in Toronto and works at a cancer research labratory.
“It’s the strongest group of players that we’ve ever fielded for a World Cup. And obviously, South Korea is considered an underdog in terms of being at the World Cup. But I think it’s their best chance to qualify for the round of 16. A lot of our best players play regularly in Europe, which I guess isn’t the only way to measure it. But if a group of players are good, I think it’s a good quantitative way to see how well the Korean football development is going.”
Seo says there’s a large Korean community in North York where he said he wouldn’t be surprised if bars open for spectators to catch a morning game. There’s also a smaller Koreatown by Christie Station on Bloor Street West. Seo will be watching at home, possibly with his mom.
Matthias Dedobbeleer, a 32 year old living in Toronto who moved to Canada in 2019 to do research projects as a post doctoral fellow at SickKids hospital.
“The players are honest, I would say. They always try their best on the field and they are not going to try to rip the game or mess up the game just to achieve something. They always try to play their best level.”
The Duke of York at 39 Prince Arthur Ave. in Toronto is a noted spot for Belgium fans.
Gio Marfo, a 35-year-old sports and music journalist who has lived in Toronto since migrating with his family at a young age. He has vivid memories of watching games with his late father, who bought him his first jersey after Ghana qualified for the World Cup in 2006.
“Soccer is like a religion in Ghana. We should cheer for Ghana simply because they’re the best African team on the planet. Besides, who has a cooler squad than our national team?” (That name? The Black Stars.)
“There’s a Ghanaian restaurant called African Chop Bar (2503 Finch Ave. W.). This year, they’re putting up a huge TV for the games and they’re very excited since Ghana hasn’t made the World Cup since 2014.”
Wanita Kelava, 53, who moved to Canada as a small child with her family. “My parents had an opportunity to come to Canada through my great-grandfather and with nothing but a small child and a suitcase in hand they decided to take the chance to create better opportunities for their future.”
“Croatians have an enormous passion for their culture and country. We love everything Croatian, and we especially love soccer … (the team is) exciting because you are always on the edge of your seat waiting until they qualify, or make it to the next round. They are the underdog that fights hard to make it to the top. They are among a group of the most talented players in the world, including Luka Modric. The Croatian National Team feels and shares in our united passion and leaves their full heart on the field!”
Kelava said The Croatian Sports and Community Centre of Hamilton, Inc., and KW Croatia Club in Kitchener are both popular choices for Croatian fans.
Diego Alonso, a 20 year old living in Toronto who immigrated to Canada in 2021 for “a better quality of life” and more opportunites.
“The world should cheer for Mexico because it has a unique national team. We are a soccer country; we live, eat and breathe soccer. Because even in the worst moments, the team brings out the very best version of themselves. I’m also a big fan of (winger) Hirving Lozano and of course, I’m Mexican! They have the best and most passionate fans, and we are in every part of the world.”
At El Sazon Mexicano on St. Clair Ave West. Alonso said this location has “the best micheladas” in the city.
Mohamed Zayani, an account executive who moved to Canada in 2016. He settled in North York with his wife and two sons in search of a better future following the Arab Spring. He has loved soccer since his childhood and remembers overhearing games being played at the nearby stadium from his bedroom.
“In Tunisia, soccer is by far the most popular game people would play. During my childhood, the country was under a dictatorship regime. Everyone was only focussed on soccer – it was our only getaway from what was happening in politics. You’ll see people watching games in coffee shops, playing soccer in the streets – not even with a ball sometimes … To be honest, it’s one of the few things that can bring happiness and joy to the Tunisian people.”
“Last World Cup, we organized a small group to watch the Tunisian game against England at Café Diplomatico in Little Italy (594 College St.). Because of time difference, it can be very challenging so I may try to watch from home this year.”
Kerin Sparks, a 56-year-old sales manager who has lived in Canada for over 30 years with his wife and two sons. He’s always been a big soccer fan and takes pride in heavily supporting the national team, dubbed The Socceroos, who have been a part of every World Cup since 2006.
“What makes Australia so great is that we have one of the most diverse football teams representing the country. It’s a cultural mixture of generational Australians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Africans and more. We really want to make sure we can score some goals and we need to have some offensive support, so we’ll take as much fans cheering that we can possibly get. We’re a very passionate country when it comes to sports.”
“We are absolutely going to Hemingway’s Restaurant in Yorkville (142 Cumberland St.). The pub itself is owned by two guys from New Zealand and because New Zealand and Australia are closely allied, all the Australians will be there.”
Jorge Monico, a 79 year old who came to Canada in 1969 for “a better future.” Monico is the head referee for Kleinburg Nobleton Soccer Club.
“Everybody should be cheering for their own national team. Every Urguayan person or descendant for sure, they’re going to cheer for Uruguay.” The team is a four-time international champion. “Every time it’s work hard, our expectations are very high … we have high expecations for the national team, definitely.”
Monico said the clubhouse where fans have gathered in the past was sold because of the pandemic. He said people will be watching in their homes.
Danish Luthern Church pastor Simon Kangas Larsen, 47, moved to Canada four years ago.
“I think it’s one of the best (teams) in the world, especially when you’re talking about the fellowship that they have. They are a real team working together and there’s also individuals there and they have some stars on the team, but they work strongly together and they make each other good and play the best.”
The Rivoli (332 Queen St. W.) will play soccer on the big screen, partnering with the Danish church to play the games. The event is free but spectators are asked to RSVP on Eventbrite.
Willy Walstra, a 74 year old who came to Canada in 1967.
“When we’re talking about the 1974 (World Cup) final between Germany and Holland … the only thing people are talking about nowadays, the final, is the style of play of the Dutch. That changed the whole course of football with the next generations at the World Cup: Total Football. And maybe it’s a little bit refined now, but at that time, nobody had ever seen anything like it, where basically the philosophy was: you lose the ball, you get it back within five seconds.”
The Borrel on 1333 Danforth Ave. will show Netherlands games during the World Cup.
Youssef Bouya, a 39-year-old banking professional who moved to Toronto three months ago with his wife and three children in search of a new challenge in his life.
“When you’re a football fan, you’re supporting your own guys. You can identify yourself with the players because you played yourself. They represent your nation and your culture. Moroccan people are very hospitable and kind to each other.”
“The Moroccans will be playing against Canada, so there will definitely be lots of places to watch.”
Eduardo Baldissera is a 19-year-old international business student at the Toronto School of Management who has lived in the city for one month. Like many young Brazilian children, he grew up playing soccer.
“The World Cup is something that unites all Brazilians together. We are the country that has won the most – so far, it’s been five – and we’re expecting to win the sixth this year. The games are almost sacred and when we cheer, we take it very seriously. In our country, the federal government has instated that whenever Brazil is playing, people don’t have to work so that they can watch the games.”
“I don’t know exactly. I haven’t found my people yet but I will,” Baldissera says hopefully, as he is still new to the city. According to the Luso-Brazilian Community Centre, Brazilians will head to Rio 40 Degrees Restaurant (1256 St. Clair Ave. W.) where they’ll live stream the games.
Nikola Parenta, is a 26 year old who works in commercial real estate development who arrived in Canada with his family as refugees in 1999.
“We are a small country, but we are a soccer nation first. For nearly 20 years now, there’s just been perpetual disappointment when it comes to our national soccer team,” says Parenta. Serbia has yet to make it past the group stage. “Our people want to show the world that we’re a competitive team and that we can surprise people. There’s a lot of hope that we’re going to do something big this year.”
Royal Meats BarBeque (710 Kipling Ave.) is the typical hotspot for Serbians as well as other Eastern European countries to gather to enjoy eating Balkan and Mediterranean cuisine while watching the game.
Nnenna Asubo is a senior consultant who landed in Toronto a little over three years ago, seeking something new and adventurous.
“We have a really good team this year for the first time in so long! I feel like England has been trying to chase that ’66 victory (England’s only World Cup win) for a really long time and it looked like we were going to get close during the last Euros, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. I feel like this could be the year, this could be our year.”
The Queen & Beaver Public House (35 Elm St.) is a British pub that makes an excellent central spot to watch live games, but for Asubo, she’d rather stay home and celebrate amongst close friends. “Usually, I will gather every British person I know at either mine or my friend’s apartment just because having us all in one place is fun.”
Ivana Bozic is a 39-year-old teacher who moved to North York from Florida six years ago to build a life together with her children and their father. Her adoration for the sport comes from her passionate family, especially her father who came close to playing at a professional level in Serbia.
“I think Team U.S.A. are the underdogs. They have a very young group of men coming in that are going to be playing, so there’s a lot of hope there.”
“Typically, we gather a group of friends … and enjoy that atmosphere.”
Jonathan Larrad, who moved to Toronto nearly 12 years ago and lives her with his wife and daughter. After realizing that the food he enjoyed back home wasn’t available here, he founded Spanish Pig and Tinmonger, offering both Spanish delicacies and gourmet canned seafood.
“Because of Spain’s love for football. They spawned some of the best players around the world. Their adoration for football is so high so it’s incredible how long it even took them to win the World Cup back in 2010. I think they’re seen as a team that’s a force to contend with and everyone knows they’re a very good team. Real Madrid and Barcelona are supported by people all around the world, you’ll see their jerseys worn everywhere outside of Spain.”
“Because I’m in my mid 40s now, I’d probably gravitate towards a friend’s house rather than a bar. But anywhere along College St. That’s where I was when Spain won the World Cup and I was amazed at the atmosphere.”
Mark Bairos, a 38-year-old electrician living in Toronto with his wife and three children. His passion for soccer was passed on by his father, who would take him out of elementary school to watch Portugal in World Cup qualifying games.
“Right away, I think of Cristiano Ronaldo. Especially considering this may be his last World Cup and the last time he’ll play for Portugal.”
“People come as far as from Bradford and Cambridge to cheer anywhere in Little Portugal, near to College St. and Dovercourt Rd. I recommend for good food in a nice ambiance. Square One’s Celebration Square is also a really great public viewing place because of the huge screen. There are also several Portuguese cultural clubs all over the GTA.”
Bilo Tout, a 52 year old living in Scarborough who works at a car dealership. Tout came to Canada two years ago to be with his children.
“They have a good team. During my last stay there for 20 years, I used to watch them and encourage them all the time.”
Adnan Jilani, a 32 year old working in the IT field who was born in Pakistan and moved to Qatar at the age of two. Jilani immigrated to Canada in 2016 for school.
“When Qatar won the bid, it was really amazing … because at that time we were still in high school and it was really amazing to know that Qatar won the World Cup (bid). It was the first Muslim country in the world to host the World Cup, so it was a big a deal.”
Jilani is looking forward to watching the weekend matches at Celebration Square in Mississauga.
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